But one of his best-remembered, and most unfortunate, lines came later — after his unvetted selection of Sen. Thomas Eagleton of Missouri as his running mate turned into a political disaster with the disclosure that Eagleton twice had undergone electric shock therapy for depression. McGovern said he was "1,000 percent" for Eagleton and wasn't dropping him from the ticket. But he had to. Then he had to shop for a running mate, with five Democrats declining before Sargent Shriver finally said yes.
So if there'd been any doubt about his outcome against Nixon, it was erased before the fall campaign even began. McGovern was frustrated because Nixon stayed at the White House and seldom campaigned at all. McGovern called him the most corrupt president in American history, as The Washington Post published a succession of Watergate disclosures. Nixon just denied it all.
The political pain would ease. More devastating was the death in 1994 of his daughter, Teresa, who had suffered mental illness and alcoholism, and froze to death in a snowbank near a bar where she'd been drinking in Madison, Wis. "You never get over it, I'm sure of that," he said. "You get so you can live with it, that's all." McGovern and his wife Eleanor, who died in 2007, had four daughters and one son.
McGovern wrote a book, "Terry," about his daughter's life struggle, the family impact and his own worry that his political preoccupations had somehow contributed to her troubles. He used the proceeds to open the Teresa McGovern Center in Madison to help others afflicted by addictions.
As a candidate, McGovern had to fend off conservative claims that he was weak on national defense, a naive peacenik — that he had, according to the far right, shirked combat, which was a lie. He was a decorated World War II pilot with 35 combat missions in B-24 bombers.
It could have been a campaign asset, but he talked little about it. He did in a Labor Day speech: "I still remember the day when we were hit so hard over Germany that we were all ready to bail out. So I gave this order to the crew: 'Resume your stations. We're going to bring this plane home.' I say to you and to people everywhere who share our cause: 'Resume your stations. We're going to bring America home.'"
That last line became the standard closing of his campaign speech. But he didn't repeat the details of the mission that won him the Distinguished Flying Cross for safely landing his crippled B-24. Perhaps he should have said more about his service, he said later, "but I always felt kind of foolish talking about my war record — what a hero I was."
That he did not was typical George McGovern.
EDITOR'S NOTE — Walter R. Mears, who reported on government and politics for The Associated Press in Washington for 40 years, covered George McGovern in the Senate and in his 1972 presidential campaign.
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