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50 years ago: Nixon Defeats McGovern

McGovern was elected to the House in 1956, the Senate in 1962, and was the Dem prez nominee in 1972.
Ken Rudin collection
McGovern was elected to the House in 1956, the Senate in 1962, and was the Dem prez nominee in 1972.

This interview posted above is from SDPB's daily public-affairs show, In the Moment, hosted by Lori Walsh.

On this week in 1972, Senator George McGovern lost the presidential election to Richard Nixon including a loss in his home state by 17 thousand votes. Although a devastating blow politically, McGovern's legacy is also seen from a longer historical perspective.

George McGovern attended Mitchell High School and credited his debate teacher for helping him overcome debilitating shyness. McGovern said debate changed his life, giving him a chance to explore ideas to their logical end.

A few days after Pearl Harbor was bombed, he volunteered for the U.S. Army Air Forces. During World War II, McGovern flew 35 missions over German-occupied Europe piloting a B-24 Liberator. After the war, he earned a bachelor's degree from Dakota Wesleyan University and his Ph.D. from Northwestern University.

In 1956, McGovern left his life as a history professor behind when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He was re-elected in 1958 but failed in a bid for the U.S. Senate in 1960. In 1962 he was elected to the Senate and set an example for modern American liberalism. He was most known for his outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War.

McGovern's grassroots-based presidential campaign in 1972 led to the Democratic nomination. But in the general election, he lost to Nixon in one of the biggest landslides in U.S. electoral history. McGovern left the Senate in 1980 when he was defeated in his bid for a fourth term.

George McGovern is also known for his efforts to eliminate hunger in all corners of the world. Many of the programs he initiated are still serving meals and educating people to help eliminate food insecurity.

He received many awards for his military service and was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his years of public service after the war.

Another South Dakota native, Tom Brokaw, in his book The Greatest Generation, said, "McGovern remains one of the country's most decent and thoughtful public servants."

But on this day in 1972, Senator George McGovern lost his bid for the White House to Richard Nixon.

Production help is provided by Brad Tennant, Ph.D., professor of history at Presentation College.