George McGovern, former senator and 1972 Democratic nominee, dies aged 90

Former Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern died at a hospice in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on Sunday, at the age of 90.

McGovern’s family announced his passing in a statement, first reported by the Associated Press.

McGovern represented South Dakota’s first district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1957 to 1961, and was a U.S. senator from 1963 to 1981, where he was a champion of his party's liberal wing.

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McGovern was the Democratic presidential candidate in the 1972 election, losing in a landslide to then-president Richard Nixon.

President Obama on Sunday marked the passing of former McGovern by praising him as a “champion for peace.”

“George McGovern dedicated his life to serving the country he loved,” said Obama, in a statement released by the White House. 

“He signed up to fight in World War II, and became a decorated bomber pilot over the battlefields of Europe. When the people of South Dakota sent him to Washington, this hero of war became a champion for peace. And after his career in Congress, he became a leading voice in the fight against hunger,” he added.

Vice President Biden on Sunday joined the tributes, saying he was “profoundly saddened” by the passing of a “generous, kind, honorable man.” 

“George believed deeply in public service. It defined him as a Senator and as a man. And he never stopped serving for his entire life,” Biden said in a statement.

Just winning the Democratic nomination in 1972 was an impressive accomplishment for McGovern, as many of his views didn’t initially have the backing of party big-wigs in an era when powerful operatives still controlled the political processes behind the scenes.

But Nixon, who branded the challenger a supporter of “amnesty, acid and abortion,” won 49 states that year, with McGovern carrying only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.

McGovern’s campaign never recovered after it was discovered that his running mate, Missouri Sen. Thomas Eagleton, had received electroshock therapy for clinical depression.

Journalist Hunter S. Thompson chronicled McGovern’s doomed campaign in the cult-classic book Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72.

“Of all the men that have run for president in the twentieth century, only George McGovern truly understood what a monument America could be to the human race,” Thompson wrote at the time.

Despite the loss, McGovern was admired by political followers on both sides of the aisle for his commitments to peace, federal transparency and the less fortunate.

Long before he became U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations for Food and Agriculture under President Clinton, McGovern had been a worldwide hunger activist.

He collaborated with another failed presidential candidate, Republican Bob Dole, on the International Food for Education and Nutrition Program, which earned the two the World Food Prize in 2000.

In his death, his family is urging supporters to donate to a local food bank called Feeding South Dakota.

This story was first published at 7:27 a.m.