Former U.S. senator and presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy has died in Washington at the age of 89. Mr. McCarthy helped to crystallize American opposition to the war in Vietnam in the late 1960's.
He was from the midwestern state of Minnesota. As a young man he was a teacher and for a time studied to become a Catholic priest. He was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1948 and then to the U.S. Senate in 1958, where he served until retiring in 1970. But he will be best remembered for his 1968 run for the presidency, where he rode growing public opposition to the war in Vietnam into the national spotlight.
"Those nations we more or less traditionally accepted as being a part of the Western world, I think that we would probably be honored by most of them if we were to somehow work out a withdrawal or a disengagement in Vietnam," he said.
Political experts gave Senator McCarthy little chance of defeating his fellow Democrat President Lyndon Johnson, but displaying a strong streak of idealism that would characterize his political career, Eugene McCarthy welcomed the label of political underdog. "I am hopeful that this challenge which I am making, which I hope will be supported by other members of the Senate and other politicians, may alleviate, at least in some degree, this sense of political helplessness, and restore to many people a belief in the processes of American politics and of American government," he said.
In the 1968 Democratic presidential primary in New Hampshire, McCarthy polled an astonishing 42 percent of the vote. Although he actually finished second to President Johnson in the primary, the Minnesotan delivered what proved to be a mortal blow to President Johnson's hopes for re-election. Two weeks later it was Lyndon Johnson's turn to stun the nation, as he announced that he would not seek another term in the White House.
"I have concluded that I should not permit the presidency to become involved in the partisan divisions that are developing in this political year. Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president," he said.
Mr. McCarthy lost the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination to Vice President Hubert Humphrey. He ran again for the presidency as a third party candidate in 1976 and became a popular speaker at American colleges and universities. He also returned to his first love as a writer and a poet. In recent years he lobbied Congress to enact campaign finance reform.
He will be remembered not only for his impact on the 1968 presidential race but also for the way in which he changed how presidential campaigns are run. His focus on urging America to get out of Vietnam struck a chord with younger voters and college students and inspired future presidential candidates to build their campaigns from the ground up with grassroots support. Senator McCarthy's 1968 campaign also demonstrated the political benefits of intensely focusing on one or two key issues.