On the way into the 1976 election season, Mondale would join a wide-open democratic field to seek the presidency. He decided against it, but was chosen by Jimmy Carter as his running mate, the so-called “Fritz and Grits Ticket”. They scored a narrow win over President Gerald Ford and Senator Bob Dole in November.
Much was made at the time of the fact that Carter clearly wanted Mondale’s advice and presence, which was definitely not the case for past presidents – Mondale even had his own office in the White House. Mondale’s wife, Joan, also gained more prominence than typical “second lady” women.
“Our relationship in the White House,” Mondale was quoted in his biography on the Senate website, “has been sustained under the searing pressure of this place because we have stepped into and understood our offices, perhaps for the first time in the history of those offices have that. ” Each of us could do a better job if we kept each other’s trust. And that trust lasted for four years. ”
As a former senator, Mondale also spent much of his time fighting for the president’s legislative priorities on the hill. He was also a key participant in the negotiations between Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel and President Anwar Sadat of Egypt that resulted in these two longtime enemies signing the historic Camp David Accords.
He also worked to end the refugee crisis that gripped Southeast Asia after decades of war and oppression. “Let us honor the moral principles we inherit,” Mondale said in July 1979 at a United Nations conference on refugees. We are facing a world problem. Let’s create a world solution. “
Even so, Carter’s popularity steadily waned during his presidency. After Carter was routed by Reagan in November 1980, Mondale was considered a Democratic frontrunner in 1984 and entered the race on February 21, 1983.
In hindsight, it may look like the Democrats were doomed to be crushed by Reagan in 1984, but that wasn’t clear at the time. Reagan’s approval rating had dropped to 35 percent in January 1983 and was still south of 50 percent in 1984. In late July, James Reston wrote in the New York Times that Mondale – having just elected Ferraro – had a slight head start on Reagan and was trying to consolidate it by attracting new voters.
“Victory or defeat in a hundred days in November may depend on the outcome of this mobilization struggle,” wrote Reston.
It was defeat – a one-sided.
He’d gotten the nomination after beating back a surprisingly tough challenge from Colorado Senator Gary Hart, a relative newcomer to the national stage. Just when it looked like he was going to win, Mondale had lost to Hart in New Hampshire. “Hart became the unofficial candidate of the ‘non-Mondale’ Democrats – voters who were younger, more educated, wealthier, whiter and disappointed in the Orthodoxy of the Democratic Party.” wrote Jeff Greenfield in 2007.
As the main season progressed, it turned into a three-man match, in which Mondale battled Hart and Rev. Jesse Jackson, the nation’s first prominent African-American candidate. Mondale, perceived as a candidate for the establishment, may not have the most enthusiastic supporters of the three, but ultimately he had the most delegates.
On July 12, 1984, Mondale made history by announcing that he had chosen Ferraro, a three-time New York congressman, as his companion. He said: “Our founders said in the Constitution:” We the people “- not just the rich or men or whites, but all of us.” It was reported that he was actively trying to make history with these selections, considering African American and at least one Hispanic among others.
The buzz welcomed Ferraro’s choice as the first woman on a big party ticket, though her selection became something of an obligation when questions about her husband’s finances surfaced during the campaign.
In reference to a Burger King ad, Mondale had the phrase “Where’s the beef?” During the busy season, he taunted Hart as a handsome face with lightweight guidelines, but efforts to bring that slogan across to Reagan were unsuccessful. Reagan’s team countered with ads declaring a rebirth of American greatness, saying it was “Morning Again in America.” The Republicans also released “Fritzbusters”, apparently ubiquitous young activists who took advantage of the then popular “Ghostbusters” theme. And there was no getting around his connection to the Carter administration.
“It wasn’t a malaise that we suffered from,” said Jeane Kirkpatrick in her memorable GOP congressional speech, “it was Jimmy Carter – and Walter Mondale.”
For his part, when he tried to pin Reagan on certain subjects in their debates, Mondale came out as shaky and awkward. Reagan, then a lively ’73, worried Mondale about his age: “I will not use my opponent’s youth and inexperience for political ends.”
Mondale later commented, “Reagan promised them Morning in America, and I promised a root canal.”
The 1984 results were a landslide of epic proportions, even more one-sided than the defeats of Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Democrat George McGovern in 1972. Mondale only carried Minnesota (barely) and the District of Columbia and lost by 525 votes against 13 Reagan got nearly 17 million more votes than Mondale, and only seven states (Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Iowa, New York, Wisconsin) lost the Democrat less than 10 percentage points.
“Mondale’s fall campaign was doomed as much as McGovern’s 12 years earlier,” wrote Bruce Miroff in “The Liberal Moment: The McGovern Uprising and the Democratic Party’s Identity Crisis.”
Miroff added, “Reagan’s team came up with a feel-good theme for the president that easily put the dreary Mondale on the run.”
Mondale made no comeback after 1984, although over time he remained on the public stage at the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and then under President Bill Clinton as ambassador to Japan. In 1998 he was Clinton’s special envoy for Indonesia.
Under tragic circumstances, Mondale jumped back into the election campaign in 2002. Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone, his wife, daughter and five other people were killed in a campaign plane crash on October 25.
Members of Wellstone’s campaign, including his son, recruited the former senator to take Wellstone’s place in the Minnesota vote, but Mondale had inherited a strong opponent in Republican Norm Coleman, and the campaign-like feel of Wellstone’s televised memorial damaged its reputation of the state democrats. Less than two weeks later, Coleman prevailed by 3 percentage points; It was Mondale’s first defeat in Minnesota since losing to the class president as a high school graduate.
Mondale’s nearly 60-year-old wife, Joan Adams Mondale, died in February 2014. His daughter Eleanor, a talk show host, died in 2011 at the age of 51.