The main goals of (the Committee to Re-elect the President), as Segretti and his accomplices later told reporters and investigators, were to torpedo the campaigns of Democrats they thought to be a serious threat to Nixon’s reelection, and to wreak havoc among the Democratic campaigns, creating ill will and sore feelings. “The main purpose was that the Democrats not have the ability to get back together after a knock-down drag-out campaign,” according to Segretti.
Their style of disrupting and harassing rival political campaigns was known to them as “ratfucking”. Their main target in early 1972 was Ed Muskie. According to the political pundits and pollsters, Muskie was the man to beat for the Democratic nomination. As the front-runner for the nomination, expectations for him were high heading into the New Hampshire primary – some estimates had him winning 65% of the vote.
Then came the “Canuck letter”. Segretti and Ken Clawson, a White House communications deputy, had cooked up a letter and sent it to William Loeb, the publisher of the Manchester Union Leader- an influential conservative newspaper in Manchester, New Hampshire. The letter claimed that at a campaign meeting in Ft Lauderdale, a Muskie campaign aid had cracked a joke about French Canadians living in New England. “We don’t have blacks, but we do have Canucks”, the aid supposedly said. To this, Senator Muskie was reported to have agreed and laughingly said, “Come to New England and see”.
Two weeks before the New Hampshire primary and one day before Muskie was to campaign there, the Union Leader published an anti-Muskie editorial on its front page, entitled “Senator Muskie Insults Franco-Americans”. The paper accused Muskie of hypocrisy for supporting blacks while condoning the term “Canucks”. A copy of the Canuck letter accompanied the editorial.
The very next day, Loeb reprinted a two-month-old Newsweek article about Senator Muskie’s wife, entitled “Big Daddy’s Jane.” This piece reported that Mrs Muskie was a chain-smoker, drank too much, and used off-colour language on the campaign plane.
The next morning, the Muskie campaign started to unravel. The Senator appeared in front of the headquarters of the Union Leader in a driving snow storm. Standing on a flatbed truck, he addressed a gathering of supporters, along with the media covering his campaign, and attacked Loeb as a “gutless coward”. As he spoke about the charges against his wife, his voice halted as he choked back tears.