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Looking Back: President Richard Nixon plays politics in St. Petersburg (October 29, 1970)

President Richard Nixon addresses the crowd at the Bayfront Center arena in St. Petersburg.

TIMES | Ricardo Ferro


President Richard Nixon addresses the crowd at the Bayfront Center arena in St. Petersburg. TIMES | Ricardo Ferro

This story appeared in the pages of the St. Petersburg Times on October 29, 1970. What follows is the text of the original story, interspersed with photos of the event taken by Times staff photographer's Ricardo Ferro and Fred Victorin.

7,000 JAM BAYFRONT CENTER: Pinellas Republicans Rally Around Nixon's Banner

By Stan Witwer

Times staff writer

President Nixon, U.S. Rep. William C. Cramer and Gov. Claude R. Kirk, in that order, played the starring roles in the biggest, loudest and most colorful political rally in St. Petersburg's history Wednesday.

Before a screaming, cheering crowd of 7.000 persons who jammed a gaily decorated Bayfront Center arena, Nixon became the first incumbent U.S. President ever to visit Pinellas County.

Another 5,000 persons, unable to get inside, also cheered as the listened to his 27-minute talk via loudspeakers outside.

TIMES | Ricardo Ferro

The Bay Area smiles hello to the President; with Richard Nixon is Senator C. W. Bill Young, U. S. Rep. William C. Cramer (foreground) and Gov. Claude R. Kirk.

TIMES | Ricardo Ferro

President Nixon gets a ride to the Bayfront Center with U. S. Rep. William C. Cramer (center) and Gov. Claude R. Kirk.

TIMES | Fred Victorin

Nixon was in town to help with Cramer's U.S. Senate and Kirk's gubernatorial campaigns.

TIMES | Fred Victorin

Despite the President's help, both Cramer and Kirk would go on to lose their 1970 elections.

TIMES | Fred Victorin

The visit was all politics. The president plainly stated he came here to urge the election, Nov. 3, of Republican candidates, primarily Cramer to the U.S. Senate. He also praised Kirk, saying, "It is vitally important that you have leadership in Tallahassee that believes in progress. The man who stands for that is Claude Kirk.

He saluted State Sen. C. W. Bill Young, the rally's official host and a candidate for Congress, saying, "Bill Young will make a fine congressman."

The talk here was almost word for word the same as one given Tuesday night in Miami Beach. That one was broadcast over a statewide television network, paid for by the Cramer Campaign Committee. But there were some deletions and Nixon's St. Petersburg tone seemed more moderate than his attitude of the night before.

TIMES | Fred Victorin

TIMES | Fred Victorin

At Miami Beach he insinuated criticism of the results of court-ordered desegregation of schools, including widespread busing saying he is strongly in favor of neighborhood schools "where children go to the school nearest their homes."

Although both Cramer and Kirk are strong advocates of neighborhood schools, Nixon did not mention them in his Bayfront talk.

But the crowd either had not heard the Tuesday broadcast or did not care if it heard it again. They were there to raise the roof for Nixon first, Cramer second, Kirk and Young third and other Republicans fourth. They did a commendable job.

Nor did it seem to matter that at least one of every three persons inside, perhaps more, were young people under 21 who will not vote Nov. 3. The purpose of the rally, as is the case wherever the President goes to campaign for local candidates, is television and press exposure.

TIMES | Fred Victorin

There will be plenty of that today throughout not only Florida but the nation.

Nixon's theme was that his Administration is working as hard as it knows how to end the Vietnam War, stop rising prices, curb inflation, set up effective programs against use of drugs, combat organized crime and guarantee law and order, but is getting less congressional cooperation than it needs.

"I need help in the Congress," he said several times, "particularly in the Senate, and you can help me get that help by electing Bill Cramer."

TIMES | Fred Victorin

He pointed out that many key issues in the Senate are decided by a single vote, again stressing the potential value of having Cramer there.

Chiding Congress for having dilly-dallied in acting on his package of anti-crime bills for nearly a year and a half, Nixon said "I need men like Bill Cramer to work and fight for passage of these programs."

Nixon promised strong and continuing efforts to clean up the environment, fight air and water pollution and promote conservation.

He mentioned the Cross Florida Barge Canal, construction of which conservationists are attempting to stop. He suggested that it should be studied to determine if its opponents' allegations have foundation.

Noting that there are a great many people in Florida on Social Security, he urged congressional action on a bill to provide an automatic cost-of-living increase in benefits. Such a bill, with his backing and that of Cramer also, has been introduced but not acted on.

TIMES | Fred Victorin

TIMES | Fred Victorin

The crowd was wildly enthusiastic at the entrances of Kirk and later Nixon and Cramer as they entered together. The applause in both cases lasted more than half-a-minute.

He said he has attended a lot of rallies but never had seen one with so many bands – there were five, from Largo, Dunedin, Dixie Hollins and Gibbs high schools, Meadowlawn Junior High School and a choir from First United Methodist Church of Pinellas Park.

TIMES | Fred Victorin

An aide said the President was "surprised and delighted" to see so many excited, young faces in the audience, considering that St. Petersburg is better known as a haven for the elderly.

Before the President arrived, the bands played for more than an hour, drum majorettes strutted in the aisles, the choir sang and after each presentation, the crowd cheered wildly and waved scores of banners, warming up for the main event.

Scores of Secret Service men, in plainclothes but carrying walkie-talkies; city police and off-duty firemen provided the tightest security and crowd control this city has ever seen. There were one or two boos when Kirk was announced and some jeering when Nixon was speaking – otherwise, no incidents.

TIMES | Fred Victorin

At the end, one moustached Secret Serviceman sighed and said, "I wish they were all as calm as this one. And you ought to be pleased too. It was a helluva show."

To order reprints, license or download any Times image from this gallery, or to see other Richard Nixon photos, please visit the Times image archive.

Jeremy King

Twitter: @TBTimesArchive

e-mail: jking@tampabay.com

Looking Back: President Richard Nixon plays politics in St. Petersburg (October 29, 1970) 04/13/17 [Last modified: Thursday, April 13, 2017 8:50am]
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