Walter Mondale, Jimmy Carter’s Vice President, Dies – NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth
Former Vice President Walter F. Mondale, a liberal icon who lost one of the most one-sided presidential elections after bluntly telling voters to expect a tax hike if he wins, died Monday. He was 93 years old.
The death of the former Minnesota Senator, Ambassador and Attorney General was announced in a statement from his family. No reason was given.
Mondale followed the path of political mentor Hubert H. Humphrey from Minnesota politics to the US Senate and Vice Presidency, who served under Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1981.
In a statement Monday night, Carter said he considered Mondale “the best vice president in our country’s history”. He added, “Fritz Mondale has provided us all with a model for public service and private behavior.”
Speaking of Mondale, President Joe Biden said, “There have been few senators, before or since, who have offered such universal respect. … It was Walter Mondale who defined the vice presidency as a full partnership and helped provide a model for my service . ”
Mondale’s own attempt at the White House in 1984 peaked Ronald Reagan’s popularity. His election of New York’s Rep. Geraldine Ferraro as his fellow campaigner made him the first major party presidential candidate to put a woman on the ticket, but his declaration that he would collect taxes helped define the race.
On election day, he only wore his home state and the District of Columbia. The electoral vote for Reagan was 525-13 – the biggest landslide in the electoral college since Franklin Roosevelt defeated Alf Landon in 1936. (Senator George McGovern received 17 votes in his defeat in 1972 and won Massachusetts and Washington, DC)
“I did my best,” said Mondale the day after the election and did not accuse anyone but himself.
“I think you know I never really warmed up for television,” he said. “In fairness to television, it never really warmed me up.”
Years later, Mondale said his campaign message had proven to be the right one.
“History has confirmed to me that we have to collect taxes,” he said. “It was very unpopular, but it was undeniably right.”
In 2002, State and National Democrats looked to Mondale when Senator Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., Was killed in a plane crash less than two weeks before election day. Mondale agreed to stand up for Wellstone, and early polls showed he was ahead of Republican candidate Norm Coleman.
But the 53-year-old Coleman, who emphasized his youth and strength, ousted the then 74-year-old Mondale in an intense six-day campaign. Mondale was also injured at a partisan memorial service for Wellstone that saw thousands of Democrats whistle for Republican politicians. One speaker said, “We ask you to help us win this election for Paul Wellstone.”
Polls showed the service scared off independents and cost Mondale votes. Coleman won by 3 percentage points.
“The eulogists were the ones who were hurt the most,” said Mondale after the election. “That doesn’t justify it, but we all make mistakes. Can’t we find it in our hearts now to forgive them and move on? “
It was a particularly bitter defeat for Mondale, who had found solace in his perfect record in Minnesota even after his loss to Reagan.
“One of the things I’m most proud of,” he said in 1987, “is that I’ve never lost an election in Minnesota in my public career.”
Years after the 2002 defeat, Mondale returned to the Senate in 2009 to stand alongside Democrat Al Franken when he was sworn in as Coleman’s successor after a lengthy recount and court battle.
Mondale began his career in Washington in 1964 when he was called to the Senate to replace Humphrey, who had resigned to become vice president. Mondale was elected to a full six-year term in 1966, with about 54% of the vote, despite the Democrats losing governorship and suffering other electoral setbacks. In 1972, Mondale won another term in the Senate with almost 57% of the vote.
His career in the Senate was shaped by advocating social issues such as education, housing, migrant workers and child nutrition. Like Humphrey, he was an outspoken advocate of civil rights.
Mondale tested the water for a presidential bid in 1974 but ultimately decided against it. “Basically, what I found was that I did not have an overwhelming desire to become president, which is essential to the type of campaign required,” he said in November 1974.
In 1976, Carter chose Mondale as the number 2 on his ticket and dropped Gerald Ford.
As Vice President, Mondale had a close relationship with Carter. He was the first vice president to occupy an office in the White House rather than a building across the street. Mondale traveled extensively for Carter and advised him on domestic and foreign affairs.
While lacking Humphrey’s charisma, Mondale had an odd sense of humor.
When he abandoned the President’s sweepstakes in 1976, he said, “I don’t want to be at Holiday Inns for the next two years.”
Just before he was selected as Carter’s runner-up, Mondale recalled, “I checked and found that they have all been refurbished and are wonderful places to stay.”
Mondale never withdrew from its liberal principles.
“I think the country needs progressive values more than ever,” said Mondale in 1989.
That year, the Democrats tried to convince him to challenge Minnesota GOP Senator Rudy Boschwitz, but he decided against the race, saying it was time to make way for a new generation.
“One of the requirements of a healthy party is that it renew itself,” he said at the time. “You can’t go on with Walter Mondale for everything.”
This paved the way for Wellstone to win the Democratic nomination and anger Boschwitz. Wellstone had prepared to take Mondale to an elementary school but would have been a serious underdog.
Walter Frederick Mondale, the son of a Methodist minister and music teacher, was born in tiny Ceylon, Minnesota on January 5, 1928, and grew up in several small towns in southern Minnesota.
He was only 20 years old when he served as district director of Congress for Humphrey’s successful Senate campaign in 1948. His training, which was interrupted by two years of military service, culminated in 1956 with a law degree at the University of Minnesota.
Mondale started a law firm in Minneapolis and in 1958 led the successful gubernatorial campaign of Democrat Orville Freeman, who appointed Mondale’s attorney general in 1960. Mondale was elected attorney general in the fall of 1960 and re-elected in 1962.
As attorney general, Mondale quickly moved into civil rights, antitrust, and consumer protection cases. He was the first attorney general in Minnesota to make consumer protection a campaign issue.
After serving in the White House, Mondale served as President Bill Clinton’s ambassador to Japan from 1993 to 1996, fighting for US access to markets ranging from automobiles to cell phones.
He helped stave off a trade war over cars and auto parts in June 1995, convinced Japanese officials to give American automakers more access to Japanese dealerships, and urged Japanese automakers to buy US parts.
Mondale maintained his ties with the Clintons. In 2008, he approved Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as president and only changed allegiances after Barack Obama sealed the nomination.
When the Democrats joined him after Wellstone’s death, Mondale worked for the Dorsey & Whitney law firm in Minneapolis and served on corporate and nonprofit bodies. After the short campaign, he returned to the company.
Mondale and his wife, Joan Adams Mondale, were married in 1955. During his vice-presidency, she pushed for more government support for the arts and was nicknamed “Joan of Arc”. She had studied art in college and worked in museums in Boston and Minneapolis.
The couple had two sons, Ted and William, and a daughter, Eleanor. Ted Mondale served in the Minnesota Senate for six years and ran unsuccessfully for Democratic governor in 1998. William Mondale served as assistant attorney general for a while. Eleanor Mondale, who became a radio journalist and television presenter, died of brain cancer in 2011.
Joan Mondale died in 2014 at the age of 83 after a lengthy illness.
Former Associated Press writer Brian Bakst contributed to this report.