Democratic politician and historian George
McGovern died Sunday aged 90, news reports quoted family members as
He was best known for his unsuccessful presidential bid against Richard Nixon in 1972 on a campaign centred around opposition to the Vietnam War. He lost in a landslide, winning the vote in only the liberal north-eastern state of Massachusetts and the capital city of Washington.
President Barack Obama called him "a statesman of great conscience and conviction."
His defeat by Nixon remains one of the largest landslides in US election history, with only the 1984 election that gave Ronald Reagan a second term and Franklin D Roosevelt's 1932 reelection more lopsided contests in the 20th century.
He was forced to change vice presidential candidates mid-race after his first choice, Thomas Eagleton, was revealed to have been treated for mental illness. He instead ran alongside Sargent Shriver, a member of the Kennedy political dynasty.
Reminiscing about the campaign in a Washington Post editorial last month, McGovern wrote that he was "genuinely stunned" by the result.
"The loss is there, an old wound never fully healed," he wrote. "My disappointment was certainly personal, made deeper by the awareness that many thousands of young Americans, and far more Vietnamese and other Asian citizens, were going to and did lose their lives with the Nixon administration's continuation of the war."
Still despite the failure, the race invigorated many young activists who went on to become prominent members of the Democratic party, including future president Bill Clinton and his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
"We first met George while campaigning for him in 1972. Our friendship endured for 40 years," the Clintons said in a statement. "As a war hero, distinguished professor, congressman, senator and ambassador, George always worked to advance the common good and help others realize their potential."
"From his earliest days in Mitchell to his final days in Sioux Falls, he never stopped standing up and speaking out for the causes he believed in," they said. "We must continue to draw inspiration from his example and build the world he fought for."
Born the son of a Methodist preacher in 1922, McGovern signed up to be a pilot in World War II and flew bombers over Germany.
He also ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination in 1968, when he made a late entry into the presidential race shortly before a party convention marked by chaotic protests, and again in 1984.
After the war he was a history professor and served at both levels of the US Congress, serving as a representative in the lower House and later a senator.
He was an outspoken advocate against global hunger, first as a member of John F Kennedy's adminstration and later at the United Nations.
"George McGovern dedicated his life to serving the country he loved. He signed up to fight in World War II, and became a decorated bomber pilot over the battlefields of Europe," Obama said in a statement.
"When the people of South Dakota sent him to Washington, this hero of war became a champion for peace," he said. "And after his career in Congress, he became a leading voice in the fight against hunger. George was a statesman of great conscience and conviction, and Michelle and I share our thoughts and prayers with his family."
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