By TOM LAWRENCE
The Daily Republic
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 and run for the White House.
George McGovern is credited with building the South Dakota Democratic Party from the ground up.
In 1953, McGovern resigned as a Dakota Wesleyan University professor to become executive secretary of the state party. It was at its lowest point ever, outnumbered 108-2 in the Legislature, but he worked to build it into a competitive party that elected legislators, state officials, governors, congressman and senators over the next several decades.
Even during his 1972 presidential campaign, McGovern showed he still cared for the party he had built. On Sept. 25, 1972, he headlined a fundraiser for the South Dakota Democratic Party in Sioux Falls.
McGovern was greeted by 4,500 at the Sioux Falls airport and 1,200 people paid $25 for the dinner at the Downtown Holiday Inn.
Nick Nemec, now a Democratic candidate for the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, was a 14-yearold boy at the time and attended both events. Nemec said it was an exciting time for the state, and he recalls placing fliers on car windshields and doing other chores with young people during the day.
Gov. Richard Kneip and Rep. James Abourezk, who was to win a Senate term that fall, were two of the South Dakota Democratic officeholders who greeted McGovern at the event and listened to his speech, which was met with loud applause. He also announced he was coming home for Election Night.
“This will be notice to the national press corps and other interested parties to start making their arrangements to come to Sioux Falls,” McGovern said.
A group called South Dakota Students for McGovern was formed and called for college students to support him at the polls. The 1972 election was the first time the voting age was lowered to 18.
A large ad from a group called Republicans for McGovern ran in The Daily Republic on Sept. 19. It was signed by 21 Republicans, including five people from Mitchell: Harold Johnson, Harold Grant, Walter Miller, Mrs. Warren Stechmann, Gordon Rollins and Mrs. L.B. Mayer.
The ad and the warm welcome home was good news for McGovern. A Lou Harris poll, conducted Sept. 19-21, was less so.
It showed President Nixon with a 59-31 lead over McGovern, with 10 percent undecided.