EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a weekly series examining the events of 40 years ago that led to Mitchell native George McGovern’s Democratic presidential nomination.
By TOM LAWRENCE
The Daily Republic
A pair of South Dakota natives, both liberal Democrats who had been friends for years, found themselves in political combat on this week in 1972.
George McGovern won the Massachusetts Democratic primary on April 25, 1972, but Hubert Humphrey won the Pennsylvania primary on the same day.
McGovern, an Avon native who grew up in Mitchell, was a South Dakota senator while Humphrey, a Wallace native who grew up in Huron, was a Minnesota senator.
The men were neighbors in suburban Washington, D.C., and allies in most liberal causes.
Humphrey had moved to Minnesota as a young man and was elected mayor of Minneapolis. He served 16 years in the Senate and was Lyndon Johnson’s vice president from 1965 to 1969.
Humphrey was the Democratic presidential candidate in 1968 before returning to the Senate in 1971.
A year later, Humphrey wanted another shot at the White House. He had also run in 1952 and 1960, and 1972 figured to be his final chance at the office. He wanted it badly, and the two old friends battled for months.
Humphrey won Pennsylvania comfortably, taking 35 percent of the vote. Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who ran as an independent in the 1968 presidential election, was a Democrat again and finished second with 21 percent of the vote.
McGovern and Maine Sen. Ed Muskie tied for third with 20 percent.
McGovern won in a landslide, claiming 53 percent of the vote. Muskie was second with 21 percent, Humphrey grabbed 8 percent and Wallace finished with 7 percent.
Two days after the results, Muskie, who opened the campaign as the favorite, dropped out.
Only McGovern, Humphrey and Wallace remained as active candidates for the nomination. Soon, and for a tragic reason, it would be a two-man race.