Former US vice-president Walter Mondale dies

Walter Mondale (left) with former US president Jimmy Carter in 2018.

Walter Mondale (left) with former US president Jimmy Carter in 2018. Photo: Getty

Walter Mondale, a leading liberal Democratic voice of the late 20th century who was US vice-president under Jimmy Carter and lost in a historic landslide to Ronald Reagan in the 1984 presidential election, has died at age 93.

Mr Mondale, the first major US party presidential nominee to pick a woman running mate, died in Minneapolis on Monday, according to his family.

Widely known as “Fritz”, Mr Mondale believed in an activist government and worked for civil rights, school integration, consumer protection and farm and labour interests as a US senator and vice-president during Carter’s troubled one-term presidency from 1977 to 1981.

He also served as US ambassador to Japan from 1993 to 1996 under Bill Clinton.

Mr Mondale was the Democratic nominee in 1984 against Mr Reagan, a popular incumbent Republican who had beaten Mr Carter four years earlier, and selected New York Democratic US congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro, as his No.2 – the first female running mate on a major party ticket.

walter mondale die

Walter Mondale with Geraldine Ferraro in 1984. Photo: Getty

But Mr Mondale suffered one of the worst defeats ever in a US presidential election, losing in 49 of the 50 states and carrying only his native Minnesota as well as Washington, DC.

It was the first of two times that Mr Mondale was sent into political retirement by a crushing defeat.

Eighteen years later, grieving Minnesota Democrats beseeched Mr Mondale, then 74, to run for the Senate after Senator Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash 11 days before the 2002 election. Mr Mondale lost narrowly to Republican Norm Coleman, who depicted him as the greying representative of a bygone era.

During his race against Mr Reagan, Mr Mondale promised Americans he would raise their taxes, a vow that did little to help his candidacy.

“I mean business. By the end of my first term, I will reduce the Reagan budget deficit by two-thirds,” Mr Mondale said during his speech in San Francisco accepting the 1984 Democratic presidential nomination.

“Let’s tell the truth. It must be done, it must be done. Mr Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I. He won’t tell you. I just did.”

The remark helped sink his campaign. Even years later, he expressed no regrets.

“I’m really glad I did it,” he told PBS in 2004. “It’s something that I felt good about, and I thought I told the truth.”

Earlier that year, Mr Mondale made a memorable political quip when, during a primary debate, he tried to depict Gary Hart, a rival for his party’s presidential nomination, as all style and no substance by asking: “Where’s the beef?”

The line, borrowed from a humorous hamburger commercial popular at the time, hurt Mr Hart’s campaign.

Mr Mondale was a protege of fellow Minnesota liberal Hubert Humphrey, also a senator and vice-president, who lost the 1968 presidential election to Republican Richard Nixon.

Mr Mondale served in the Senate from 1964 until he was elected as vice-president in Mr Carter’s 1976 victory over incumbent Republican Gerald Ford, who had become president after Mr Nixon resigned in 1974 due to the Watergate corruption scandal.

Mr Mondale became a more engaged vice-president than many who preceded him. He played a key role in buttressing the sometimes frayed relationship between Mr Carter’s White House and the Democratic-controlled Congress.

Mr Mondale and his wife, Joan Adams Mondale, were married in 1955. During his vice-presidency, she pushed for more government support of the arts and gained the nickname “Joan of Art”.

The couple had two sons, Ted and William, and a daughter, Eleanor.

Joan Mondale died in 2014 at age 83 after an extended illness.

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