George Stanley McGovern (born July 19, 1922 in Avon, South Dakota) was a United States Congressman, Senator, and Democratic presidential candidate most noted for his opposition to the Vietnam War. He is currently serving as the United Nations global ambassador on hunger.
Born and raised in South Dakota, McGovern served as a B-24 Liberator pilot in World War II, and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross; his wartime exploits were later at the center of Stephen Ambrose's book The Wild Blue. On return from the war, he earned a PhD in history from Northwestern University and became a professor at his alma mater, Dakota Wesleyan University. After five years of teaching, McGovern quit to become more involved in South Dakota politics, which led to election to the House of Representatives in 1956.
After two terms in the House, he unsuccessfully ran for the Senate in 1960, losing to Republican incumbent Karl Mundt 52-48%. The election loss made him available for appointment as the first director of President John F. Kennedy's Food for Peace program. In 1962, he stood for election to South Dakota's other Senate seat and won, serving his first of three Senate terms.
Although he voted in favor of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, McGovern later became a vocal opponent of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam, often criticizing the policies of fellow Democrat President Lyndon Johnson. At the 1968 Democratic National Convention, McGovern stood as the flagbearer for some of the supporters of the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy, losing the Presidential nomination to Hubert H. Humphrey, and coming in behind Minnesota Senator Eugene J. McCarthy as well. However, he and his supporters were able to win procedural concessions that eventually facilitated his successful nomination at the 1972 Convention.
In the 1972 election, McGovern ran on a platform of ending the Vietnam War and instituting guaranteed minimum incomes for the nation's poor. Between difficulties with his running-mate, Thomas Eagleton (whom he eventually dropped and replaced with Sargent Shriver), and the Republicans' successful campaign to paint him as unacceptably radical, he suffered a 62% - 38% defeat to Richard Nixon- at the time the biggest landslide in American history, losing in the Electoral College 520 to 17. McGovern was unable to command a majority vote even in his home state, a feat not duplicated by any subsequent major-party Presidential candidate until Albert Gore in 2000.
After this loss, McGovern continued his involvement in politics, serving in the Senate until his defeat by Republican U.S. Rep. James Abdnor in 1980, and even contesting the Democratic nomination for President in the 1984 election. His importance in U.S. politics diminished over time, but his legacy endures as a symbol of the political left during the turbulent 1960s. From 1998 to 2001, he served as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Agencies, based in Rome, Italy. (He was succeeded in this post by long-time Democratic Rep. Tony Hall.) In 2001, he was appointed U.N. Global Ambassador on World Hunger.
Personal tragedy struck McGovern in 1994, when his daughter Teresa died of exposure while intoxicated. McGovern revealed his daughter had battled her addiction for years. He founded a non-profit organization in her name to help others suffering from alcoholism.
He endorsed Democrat Wesley Clark's unsuccessful candidacy for the Democratic Party nomination for the 2004 presidential election on January 18, 2004 (24 days before Clark's withdrawal from the race). McGovern still lectures and owns a used book store in his summer home of Stevensville in Montana's Bitterroot Valley.
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