Former U.S. Senator George McGovern, whose anti-Vietnam War stance in his 1972 presidential race against Richard Nixon led to one of the worst electoral defeats in U.S. history, died Sunday at the age of 90, his family said. The former senator had been admitted to a South Dakota hospice suffering from a combination of medical conditions due to age that had worsened in recent months.
McGovern, who served in the Senate for South Dakota from 1963 to 1981, challenged Nixon in 1972 on a platform opposing the war in Vietnam. He suffered one of the most lopsided defeats in U.S. history, taking only 37.5 percent of the vote and carrying only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.
But McGovern’s legacy stretches well beyond his terms in Congress and presidential bids, to social issues, including world hunger and AIDS, said Donald Simmons, director of the McGovern Center for Leadership and Public Service at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, South Dakota.
The son of a Methodist minister, McGovern was born July 19, 1922, in Avon, South Dakota.
He flew combat missions over Europe as a B-24 bomber pilot during World War II, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross.
He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1956, and re-elected two years later.
After McGovern lost a U.S. Senate election in 1960, President John F. Kennedy named him the first director of the Food for Peace Program.
He also ran for president in 1968 after the assassination of front-runner Robert F. Kennedy and entertained a short-lived bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 22, 2012, on page 11.