SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Three former Democratic presidential candidates paid personal respects Friday to George McGovern, whose 1972 campaign for president galvanized the party’s liberal wing and ushered in a new generation of political activism.
Walter Mondale, John Kerry and Gary Hart, who like McGovern all spent time in the Senate before unsuccessful runs for the White House, led a crowd of hundreds of mourners. Hart, McGovern’s campaign manager in 1972, was the only one of the three to speak at the funeral.
“George McGovern was a voice of conscience for our nation in our time,” Hart said. Those who were uncomfortable with McGovern called him a liberal as an insult to try to imply that he was weak, Hart said, but “he was larger than any political label, particularly a demonized one.”
McGovern died Sunday at age 90 after a brief stay in hospice care.
As the final farewell to South Dakota’s native son, the funeral was filled with tender reflections and humorous tales from McGovern’s colorful past. A private burial for McGovern in Washington will be scheduled later.
Larry Fuller, a retired newspaper publisher from Sioux Falls who became friends with McGovern, said it was a fitting tribute for the man who served the state in Washington for two decades. McGovern left office in 1981 after a losing a campaign for a fourth Senate term.
“I can’t think of any South Dakotans who had as positive an impact on history as George McGovern,” Fuller said.
Even though he came up short in three tries for president, McGovern is revered on the left as someone who inspired a coterie of young Democrats who would go on to great things. Among his flock of campaign workers were future senators, a secretary of state in Hillary Clinton and a president in Bill Clinton.