(Headline USA) Former Vice President Walter F. Mondale, a liberal icon who lost his shot at the White House to President Ronald Reagan in one of the largest landslides in modern history, died Monday at 93.
Mondale, who had been vice president during the Carter administration, continued to misread the national mood in his 1984 challenge to the incumbent Reagan, bluntly telling voters to expect a tax increase if he won.
The death of the former senator, ambassador and Minnesota attorney general was announced in a statement from his family. No cause was cited.
Mondale followed the trail blazed by his political mentor, Hubert H. Humphrey, from Minnesota politics to the U.S. Senate and the vice presidency.
In a statement Monday night, Carter said he considered Mondale “the best vice president in our country’s history.” He added: “Fritz Mondale provided us all with a model for public service and private behavior.”
As vice president, Mondale had a close relationship with Carter. He was the first vice president to occupy an office in the White House, rather than in a building across the street. Mondale traveled extensively on Carter’s behalf, and advised him on domestic and foreign affairs.
President Joe Biden said of Mondale: “There have been few senators, before or since, who commanded such universal respect. … It was Walter Mondale who defined the vice presidency as a full partnership, and helped provide a model for my service.”
Mondale’s own try for the White House, in 1984, came at the zenith of Ronald Reagan’s popularity.
His selection of Rep. Geraldine Ferraro of New York as his running mate made him the first major-party presidential nominee to put a woman on the ticket, but his declaration that he would raise taxes helped define the race.
On Election Day, he carried only his home state and the District of Columbia. The electoral vote was 525-13 for Reagan—the biggest landslide in the Electoral College since Franklin Roosevelt defeated Alf Landon in 1936. (Sen. George McGovern got 17 electoral votes in his 1972 defeat, winning Massachusetts and Washington, D.C.)
“I did my best,” Mondale said the day after the election, and blamed no one but himself.
“I think you know I’ve never really warmed up to television,” he said. “In fairness to television, it never really warmed up to me.”
Years later, Mondale said his campaign message had proven to be the right one.
“History has vindicated me that we would have to raise taxes,” he said. “It was very unpopular, but it was undeniably correct.”
In 2002, state and national Democrats looked to Mondale when Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., was killed in a plane crash less than two weeks before Election Day. Mondale agreed to stand in for Wellstone, and early polls showed him with a lead over the Republican candidate, Norm Coleman.
But the 53-year-old Coleman, emphasizing his youth and vigor, out-hustled the then-74-year-old Mondale in an intense six-day campaign. Mondale was also hurt by a partisan memorial service for Wellstone, in which thousands of Democrats booed Republican politicians in attendance.
Polls showed the service put off independents and cost Mondale votes. Coleman won by 3 percentage points.
It was a particularly bitter defeat for Mondale, who even after his loss to Reagan had taken solace in his perfect record in Minnesota.
“One of the things I’m most proud of,” he said in 1987, “is that not once in my public career did I ever lose an election in Minnesota.”
Mondale never backed away from his liberal principles.
“I think that the country more than ever needs progressive values,” Mondale said in 1989.
After his political career, Mondale served from 1993-96 as President Bill Clinton’s ambassador to Japan, fighting for U.S. access to markets ranging from cars to cellular phones.
He helped avert a trade war in June 1995 over autos and auto parts, persuading Japanese officials to give American automakers more access to Japanese dealers and pushing Japanese carmakers to buy U.S. parts.
Mondale kept his ties to the Clintons. In 2008, he endorsed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for president, switching his allegiance only after Barack Obama sealed the nomination.