George McGovern, a political hero of my early adult years has passed away at age 90. It was obvious from news reports early last week of McGovern being admitted to hospice and being unresponsive that this was only a matter of time. Yet there is a pain to this.
I first became aware of Senator McGovern in 1968 when he entered the Democratic presidential race after the assassination of Bobby Kennedy in an attempt to assure that Kennedy’s legacy was kept in the light. By the time 1972 came around, I had been following Senator McGovern’s career closely. I forget the exact circumstance but as far as I can remember, I had signed up as a volunteer for McGovern at some point early in my sophomore year at Western Kentucky University. The information was shared with McGovern people around the state and one night in April ’72, I got a call from my mother. She had received a call from Steve Slade, a junior high classmate of mine who was attending Eastern Kentucky and was the McGovern coordinator for our home county of Harrison Co. Steve asked her if I would be willing to be a delegate on the McGovern slate at the county caucuses that weekend. She took his number and called me and passed along the request. I called Steve and said yes but that I would not be able to attend. Harrison Co was allotted 10 delegates to the District Convention but Steve and I were the only McGovern delegates running. The then governor of Kentucky (future Senator) Wendell Ford was a traditional Democrat and was supporting an “uncommitted” slate as part of the party apparatus moves to block McGovern. I was told later that I was matched against the wife of the local state senator and received 10 votes to her 30. Steve also lost by the same numbers. Steve appealed his loss to the District convention the next weekend and was eventually seated since he had received more than 20% of the vote (the threshold to trigger proportional representation that year). I elected to not appeal. My father had not been aware that I was on the McGovern slate and was a bit perturbed when he got to the caucus that Saturday morning to discover my name. As he was a state employee, he didn’t want to annoy the powers that be so left without voting but he let me know later his annoyance at not voting and not wanting to upset him further, I chose not to push the issue further.
While this was going on, I was volunteering at the McGovern offices at WKU while most of the rest of the folks were at the Warren County caucuses. IIRC, the McGovern slate in Warren Co took the majority of the caucus votes and delegates to the District convention so it balanced.
That fall, I continued to volunteer with the McGovern campaign doing some door-to-door canvassing. At the time, I was also a member of the WKU ROTC department, on an ROTC scholarship so that made for some interesting discussions in and out of the classes. Election day that year was a cold, rainy day in Bowling Green and I stood outside a voting location from 7AM until 4PM (polls were open 6AM to 6PM local time). I remember this one young woman campaigning with me who stated that she and her parents were all voting for McGovern because “Nixon had gone communist” by visiting “Red” China (as it was commonly known in those days). By 5PM, I was at the McGovern headquarters in Bowling Green and watched the networks call Kentucky for Nixon at 5:01 local (Central Standard) time when we still had an hour of voting. About the only election consolation we had was in the US Senate race, Democrat Dee Huddleston defeated former Governor Louie B. Nunn by nearly the same margin in the state that Nixon had defeated McGovern. Small comfort that as I wound up getting drunk that evening.
While George McGovern lost the Presidential race in 1972, his career encompassed so much more. One of the “pre-obits” I read this past week when his condition was first announced stated that he was one of the last of the “Prairie Populists.” He was a war hero, having been awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross during WWII, who championed peace. I was and am proud that I cast my first presidential vote for Senator McGovern.
Godspeed Senator. RIP
Cross posted from Just A Small Town Country Boy by Richard Taylor