George McGovern

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George McGovern
Former U.S. Senator, South Dakota
Image:George McGovern.jpg
Party Democratic
In Office from

January 3, 1963 — January 3, 1981

Preceded by Joseph H. Bottum
Succeeded by James Abdnor
Born July 19, 1922
Spouse Eleanor McGover
Religion Methodist


George Stanley McGovern was a U.S. Senator from South Dakota and was the Democratic presidential nominee in 1972. An elder statesman of sorts in Democratic circles, McGovern is an active speaker and writer.

McGovern was born July 19, 1922 in Avon, South Dakota. The McGoverns moved to the town of Mitchell soon after, where George attended high school. He earned a scholarship there to attend Dakota Wesleyan University, graduating after a stint in the Army Air Corps during World War II (McGovern earned the Distinguished Flying Cross as a bomber pilot in Europe). McGovern earned a masters degree and a doctorate in history and government from Northwestern University.

McGovern made his first run for the U.S. Senate in 1960. He was defeated by incumbent Karl Mundt, but his strong showing convinced President John F. Kennedy to choose McGovern as the director of the Food For Peace program shortly thereafter. McGovern ran for the Senate again in 1962, but this time he won.

McGovern's ambitions to even higher office were soon evident, as his name was placed in nomination for the Democratic nomination in 1968, getting some votes from supporters of the late Robert F. Kennedy. After the tumult of the convention, McGovern was placed in charge of rewriting convention procedures to be more inclusive. In doing so, McGovern was able to give more influence in nomination procedures to the groups that made up his national constituency- college students, women and minorities.

McGovern was not considered the frontrunner in 1972- that distinction would go to Maine Senator Ed Muskie- but he was a tenacious campaigner and won primaries in a number of states. Behind the scenes, supporters of Richard Nixon were covertly helping McGovern's campaign by using "dirty tricks" against his opponents. Muskie's campaign, for example, was all but destroyed after the Senator broke down in tears, responding to a GOP-planted phony news article attacking his wife.

McGovern's platform included a "bring the troops home" end to the Vietnam War and extensive civil rights legislation, but the candidacy was doomed from the start. McGovern never gained the trust of many of the traditional Democratic constituencies- the AFL-CIO never endorsed him, for example- and had a great deal of trouble raising money. He had troubles with his running mate- Missouri Senator Thomas Eagleton, hid his personal history of depression (he'd had three electroshock treatments). McGovern stood by Eagleton at first, but quickly relented, only to find no one wanted to take his place (after being turned down repeatedly, McGovern finally enlisted Peace Corps director and Kennedy relative Sargent Shriver. Most damaging of all was the charges leveled by Nixon's people, that McGovern's platform was too far left, that McGovern himself was a dangerous radical. Though Nixon was considered vulnerable at the time, McGovern wasn't in contention for long, and wound up losing the election in a landslide, Nixon carrying every state but Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. (Later, during the investigation of Nixon's role in the Watergate scandal, New England drivers saw a number of bumperstickers reminding them of the 1972 electon- "Don't blame me, I'm from Massachusetts!")

McGovern was reelected to the Senate in 1974. In 1976 President Gerald Ford named McGovern an American delegate to the General Assembly of the United Nations, and in 1978 President Jimmy Carter tapped him to serve at the UN's Special Session on Disarmament. McGovern lost his reelection bid in 1980 to Republican Congressman James Abdnor, and took up visiting professor mosts at a number of universities after leaving politics. He briefly sought the Democratic nomination again in 1984.

From 1991 to 1998 McGovern ran the Middle East Policy Council, and was named to several more UN posts by President Bill Clinton, who also awarded McGovern the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2000.

In 1994 McGovern's daughter Terry died of exposure after leaving a nearby bar. His heartbreaking book "Terry" chronicles her lifelong struggle with alcoholism; McGovern established the Terry McGovern Foundation to help individuals and families deal with alcoholism, with a special focus on alcoholism in women.

In 2004 McGovern endorsed Wesley Clark for the Democratic nomination, appearing with him in New Hampshire. McGovern continues to make public appearances, lectures and policy speeches for his causes.

There is an effort underway to establish a George McGovern Library and Center for Public Service at his alma mater, Dakota Wesleyan University. For more information, visit the McGovern Library site.

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