EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a recurring series examining the events of 40 years ago that led up to Mitchell native George McGovern’s Democratic presidential nomination.
By TOM LAWRENCE
The Daily Republic
George McGovern was in a fighting mood this week 40 years ago.
McGovern was the junior senator from South Dakota and largely unknown nationally when he launched his campaign for the Democratic nomination for president. By March 17, 1972, he had gained some recognition by finishing a surprisingly strong second in the New Hampshire primary, but he was still a long-shot to win the party’s nomination.
McGovern was the choice of 5 percent of voters according to a Gallup poll released on March 15, 1972. That was a drop from his 6 percent in a poll two weeks earlier.
Even his hometown newspaper, The Daily Republic, called his campaign an underdog for the nomination in an editorial that praised him for his success and noted he was becoming a “potent force” in the party.
McGovern was battling hard, though, and waving the liberal banner high. In AP photos that ran on Page 1 of The Daily Republic, he was pictured with civil rights activist Jesse Jackson at a soul food dinner and fundraiser in New York City, meeting with inmates at an Illinois prison and voting for the Equal Rights Amendment in the Senate.
He also made a fiery speech in Urbana, Ill., on March 16, 1972, criticizing President Richard Nixon for his opposition to court-ordered busing to try to desegregate schools.
McGovern said Nixon’s actions were a “total surrender” to reactionary politics.
McGovern said he was the true champion of the “little guy who has trouble paying his taxes” while the president supported “loopholes for rich people and powerful corporations.”
While McGovern was still a new figure on the national stage, he showed he knew how to run for the Democratic nomination under the reform rules he helped draft.
On March 11, he announced that he was leading all Democratic candidates in delegates with 71, while Maine Sen. Ed Muskie had 66, Minnesota Sen. Hubert Humphrey had 63 and Washington Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson had 36.