The New Republic and George McGovern, Part 3

With his endorsement of Wesley Clark, George McGovern perhaps answers those who compare McGovern to Howard Dean.

Still, though, the similiarities between this account of the McGovern campaign in 1971 and what we’ve seen of the Dean campaign are interesting:

To run as an “insurgent,” the term his aides use, McGovern must build his own organization, ferret out his own money supply, hopefully elbow out competition for the party’s left and, with all this accomplished, show winning strength in the primaries. All this is based on the belief that a man from the party’s left, playing to the public’s yearning for an honest politician, can glue together a winning coalition of workers, farmers, students, minorities, academics, housewives and peace activists whom McCarthy and Kennedy split in 1968. If hard work is all that’s needed to do it, McGovern can be counted on to put in the hours. He’ll never be accused of “copping out”.

Then why the doubts? Seldom have the prospects of a major contender—and, in the fall of 1971, McGovern must be accorded that designation—been haunted by so many phantoms. […Some] see a one-issue candidate, harping about a war that is fading from public consciousness. There are suspicions he’s not the one to unite the left or to give it viability […]. To middle America he’s all too often identified with the radical-chic establishment in the despised “East,” if not with the bomb throwers. Some find him wanting because he doesn’t “project” on “the media”. In brief, George McGovern isn’t “electible”. […]


[…] McGovern’s early decision to raise as much of his money as possible from small contributors is paying off—$600,000 thus far. Enough is pledged on a monthly basis ($30,000) to fund his headquarters operation, thus freeing him from total reliance on big money sources in the early stages of the campaign and making it possible for him to earmark big contributions for the long, costly primary season. […]

McGovern has clearly been helped by the dropout rate among left-of-center candidates—Hughes and Bayh, to be specific. To do well in the early primaries, McGovern will need to have the left side of the spectrum to himself, while Muskie occupies the middle and is besieged by one or more candidates on the right. […]


In the kind of multi-candidate situation which may arise in the early primaries, McGovern’s hopes lie in the depth of commitment of his supporters and the strength of his organization. From what I’ve seen[,] their commitment and energy match his own and bring to mind the warning of Wisconsin’s Don Peterson, a campaign aide to McGovern in one of his early races in South Dakota: “Everybody always underestimates George. Don’t make that mistake.”

— from “The Workhorse Candidate: McGovern’s Campaign”, The New Republic, 30 October 1971, pgs 15-16, 20.

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