The 93-year-old Minnesota liberal icon who lost the most lopsided presidential election in history after bluntly warning voters to expect a tax hike if he won, former Vice President Walter F. Mondale, was confirmed dead on Monday, April 19 by a family statement.
Newsmax reports that no reason was given for the death of Mondale, a former congressman, diplomat, and Minnesota attorney general.
From Minnesota politics to the United States Senate and vice presidency under Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1981, Mondale followed in the footsteps of his political mentor, Hubert H. Humphrey.
As a Minnesota attorney general first elected in 1960 and reelected in 1962, Mondale moved quickly into civil rights, antitrust and consumer protection cases. He was the first Minnesota attorney general to make consumer protection a campaign issue.
In 1964, Mondale started his career in Washington, when he was called to the Senate to succeed Hubert Humphrey, who had resigned to become Vice President. Education, housing, migrant workers and child nutrition were among the social issues he supported for during his Senate tenure. He, like Humphrey, was a vocal advocate for human rights.
In 1966, Mondale was re-elected to a full six-year term with around 54% of the vote, despite Democratic losses in the governorship and other elections. Mondale was re-elected to the Senate in 1972 with almost 57% of the vote.
In 1984, he ran for the White House at the height of Ronald Reagan’s fame. Mondale became the first major-party presidential candidate to choose a woman—Rep. Geraldine Ferraro of New York—for his running mate, but his promise to increase taxes finally decided the race.
In his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, he proclaimed, “Let’s tell the truth,” referring to the need to tackle deficits. “Mr. Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I. He won’t tell you. I just did.” While the convention praised his candor, the Reagan campaign pounced, gleefully painting Mondale as favoring tax hikes when the economy was booming. Reagan was easily swept back into office after the Reagan campaign countered with an ad declaring that a new “morning in America” had dawned.
Reagan won 525 to 13 electoral votes, the largest margin of victory in the Electoral College since Franklin D. Roosevelt beat Alf Landon in 1936.
“I did my best,” Mondale said the day after the election, and blamed no one but himself. Years later, Mondale said his campaign message had proven to be the right one. “History has vindicated me that we would have to raise taxes,” he said. “It was very unpopular, but it was undeniably correct.”
Mondale was a staunch Democrat who never wavered in his liberal principles.
In 1989, Mondale said, “I think that the country more than ever needs progressive values.” Democrats wanted to convince him to run against Minnesota Republican Sen. Rudy Boschwitz that year, but he declined, claiming it was time to make room for a new generation. “One of the requirements of a healthy party is that it renews itself,” he said at the time. “You can’t keep running Walter Mondale for everything.” Wellstone was able to secure the Democratic nomination as a substitute for Mondale.
When Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash less than two weeks before Election Day in 2002, state and national Democrats turned to Mondale. Mondale agreed to take Wellstone’s place. According to polls, independents were turned off by the service, and Mondale lost votes as a result. Coleman prevailed by a margin of three percentage points.
It was an especially painful setback for Mondale, who had taken solace in his perfect record in Minnesota even after his loss to Reagan.
Following his time in the White House, Mondale served as President Bill Clinton’s ambassador to Japan from 1993 to 1996, fighting for U.S. access to industries ranging from automobiles to cellular phones.
He was instrumental in averting a trade war between Japan and the United States over automobiles and auto parts in June 1995, persuading Japanese officials to allow American automakers more access to Japanese dealers and pushing Japanese automakers to purchase American parts.
The son of a Methodist pastor and a music teacher, Walter Frederick Mondale was born Jan. 5, 1928, in tiny Ceylon, Minnesota, and grew up in numerous remote southern Minnesota cities.
He worked as a congressional district clerk for Humphrey’s successful Senate campaign in 1948 when he was 20 years old. A two-year stint in the Army disrupted his career, but he graduated from the University of Minnesota with a law degree in 1956. Mondale started his legal career in Minneapolis and managed Democrat Orville Freeman’s successful 1958 gubernatorial campaign, which led to Mondale’s appointment as state attorney general in 1960. His career thrived from then on.