Richard Nixon helped fund his first political campaign by playing poker.

  • Nixon standing behind mic
Nixon standing behind mic
Credit: Everett Collection Inc/ Alamy Stock Photo

Before he was President, Richard Nixon was such a prolific poker player that he amassed enough winnings to help fund his very first political campaign. In January 1944, Nixon was stationed in the South Pacific while serving in the U.S. Navy, and it was during this time that he became something of a card shark, though it’s rumored he had no idea how to even play poker upon his arrival at the base. Nixon quickly took an interest in learning the game and spent hours studying strategy before putting his money at risk. His hard work proved fruitful, and the future President raked in around $40 to $50 each night (roughly $700 to $876 today). One fellow serviceman noted that he once saw Nixon “bluff a lieutenant commander out of $1,500 with a pair of deuces.” 

Nixon continued to win big before returning stateside in July. Upon arriving home, he claimed to have won $8,000 (around $140,000 today) from his various poker exploits, though some estimates put the winnings closer to $6,800. Either way, the number was quite substantial. In 1946, Nixon decided to enter the world of politics and run for Congress in California’s 12th District. A political newcomer, he turned to his poker savings as a way to jump-start his campaign, using the winnings to fund approximately 20% of its total costs. This choice paid off, as Nixon easily coasted to victory over incumbent Jerry Voorhis, marking the beginning of his political climb.

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