Walter Mondale

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Walter F. Mondale
Walter F. Mondale
Order: 42nd Vice President
Term of Office: January 20, 1977
January 20, 1981
Followed: Nelson Rockefeller
Succeeded by: George H. W. Bush
Date of Birth: January 5, 1928
Place of Birth: Ceylon, Minn.
Wife: Joan Adams
Profession: Lawyer
Political Party: Democrat
President: Jimmy Carter

Walter Frederick "Fritz" Mondale (born January 5, 1928 in Ceylon, Minnesota) is an American politician and member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. He was the 42nd US Vice President (1977-1981) under President Jimmy Carter. He was also a two-term US Senator from Minnesota and the Democratic Party nominee for president in 1984 against the incumbent, Republican Ronald W. Reagan, who was reelected in a landslide victory when Mondale carried only his home state of Minnesota and the District of Columbia.


Early life

Walter Frederick ("Fritz") Mondale was born on January 5, 1928, in Ceylon, Minnesota, the son of Theodore Sigvaard Mondale, a Methodist minister, and Claribel Cowan Mondale. He spent his boyhood in the small towns of southern Minnesota, where he attended public schools. His half-brother was the Unitarian minister Lester Mondale. He was educated at Macalester College in St. Paul and the University of Minnesota, graduating in 1951. Mondale didn't have the money for law school, so he enlisted in the U.S. Army in part to take advantage of the G.I. Bill. He then served two years at Fort Knox, as a corporal in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. He graduated with a law degree from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1956, having also served on the law review and as a law clerk in the Minnesota Supreme Court. He began to practice law in Minneapolis.

Entry into politics and U.S. Senator

Mondale has been involved in national politics since the 1940s. At 20 years old, he was already making a name in Minnesota politics by helping organize Hubert H. Humphrey's successful Senate campaign in 1948.

Minnesota Governor Orville Freeman appointed Mondale to the state's attorney general in 1960, to fill the vacancy left by Miles Lord who was named U.S. attorney. Mondale had just successfully managed Freeman's gubernatorial campaign. Mondale was just 32, and only four years out of law school, when he became attorney general of Minnesota. He spent two terms as attorney general. He also served as a member of the President’s Consumer Advisory Council, 1960-1964.

On December 30, 1964, Mondale was appointed by Minnesota Governor Karl Rolvaag to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by Hubert H. Humphrey, who had resigned after being elected Vice President of the United States.

In 1966, Mondale defeated Republican candidate Robert A. Forsythe by a margin of 53.9% to 45.2%. The voters of Minnesota returned Mondale to the Senate again in 1972 by an even greater margin.

During his years as a senator, Mondale served on the Finance Committee, the Labor and Public Welfare Committee, Budget Committee, and the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. He also served as chairman of the Select Committee on Equal Education Opportunity and as chairman of the Intelligence Committee's Domestic Task Force.

As a senator, Mondale also gained public notice for his role in the investigation of the Apollo 1 fire. As they delved deeper into the reasons behind the tragedy, NASA officials were confronted by some "skeletons in their closet." Mondale raised the question of negligence on the part of management and the prime contractor, North American Aviation, Inc., by introducing the "Phillips Report" of 1965-1966. The implication was that NASA had been thinking of replacing North American. Mondale's investigation also alluded to a document, The Baron Report, by a North American employee, Thomas R. Baron, that was critical of the contractor's operations at the Cape.

42nd Vice President

When Jimmy Carter won the Democratic nomination for president in 1976, he chose Mondale as his running mate. Mondale was inaugurated as Vice President of the United States on 20 January 1977. He was the first vice president to reside at the official vice presidential residence, Number One Observatory Circle. Carter and Mondale were renominated at the 1980 Democratic National Convention, but lost to Ronald W. Reagan and George H. W. Bush. (See U.S. presidential election, 1976, U.S. presidential election, 1980.)

Presidential nominee of 1984

After a brief return to the practice of law, Mondale won the Democratic presidential nomination in the 1984 election. He chose U.S. Rep. Geraldine A. Ferraro of New York as his running mate, making her the first woman nominated for that position by a major party. Mondale ran a liberal campaign, supporting a nuclear freeze and the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). He spoke against what he considered to be unfairness in Reagan's economic policies and the need to reduce federal budget deficits.

Mondale shakes hands with Ronald Reagan before a debate in 1984.
Mondale shakes hands with Ronald Reagan before a debate in 1984.

When he made his acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention, Mondale said: "Let's tell the truth. Mr. Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I. He won't tell you. I just did." Although he intended this to demonstrate that he was honest while Reagan was hypocritical, it was widely remembered as simply a campaign pledge to raise taxes, and it hurt him in the end. In 1986, Reagan did sign into law a bill that raised taxes for corporations, but at the same time cut taxes further for individual taxpayers.

In the 1984 election, Mondale was defeated in a massive landslide, winning only the District of Columbia and his home state of Minnesota, thus securing only 13 electoral votes to Reagan's 525. Mondale's defeat was the worst for any Democratic Party candidate in history, and the worst for any major-party candidate since Alf Landon's loss to Roosevelt in 1936.

Private citizen and ambassador

Following the election, Mondale returned again to private law practice, with Dorsey & Whitney in Minnesota in 1987. From 1986 to 1993, Mondale was chairman of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs.

Under the presidency of Bill Clinton, he was ambassador to Japan from 1993 to 1996, chaired a bipartisan group to study campaign finance reform, and was Clinton's representative in Indonesia in 1998.

2002 election

Mondale talks during a debate with Norm Coleman in 2002.
Mondale talks during a debate with Norm Coleman in 2002.

In 2002, Democratic US Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, who was running for re-election, died in a plane crash just 11 days before the Nov. 5 election. Mondale, at age 74, replaced Wellstone on the ballot, but narrowly lost the election to the conservative Republican opponent Norm Coleman. Upon conceding the election, Mondale said, "At the end of what will be my last campaign, I want to say to Minnesota, you always treated me well, you always listened to me". Mondale finished with 1,067,246 votes (47.34%) to Coleman's 1,116,697 (49.53%) out of 2,254,639 votes cast. Mondale set a political record of sorts as a result of this loss, becoming the only major party candidate in U.S. history to lose statewide elections in all 50 states (having won only Minnesota in the 1984 election).

Norwegian ancestry

Mondale has always maintained strong ties to his ancestral Norway. Coincidentally, when he entered the Senate in 1964 he took over the seat of vice president Hubert Humphrey, another Norwegian-American. In later years Mondale has served on the executive committee of the Peace Prize Forum, an annual conference co-sponsored by the Norwegian Nobel Institute and five Midwestern colleges of Norwegian heritage. In connection with Norway's Centennial Celebration in 2005, he chairs the committee to promote and develop cultural activities between Norway and Norwegian-American organizations. During the 1984 Presidential election he was even nicknamed "Norwegian wood", a play on the Beatles song, his ancestory and his appearance.

Mondale's 45 year old daughter, Eleanor, is a television personality, who is currently battling brain cancer.

External links

Gillon, Steven M. The Democrats’ Dilemma: Walter F. Mondale and the Liberal Legacy. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992;

Mondale, Walter. The Accountability of Power. New York: D. McKay Co., 1975.

Preceded by:
Hubert H. Humphrey
U.S. Senator from Minnesota
1964 – 1976
Succeeded by:
Wendell Anderson
Preceded by:
Sargent Shriver
Democratic Party Vice Presidential candidate
1976 (won), 1980 (lost)
Succeeded by:
Geraldine Ferraro
Preceded by:
Nelson Rockefeller
Vice President of the United States
January 20, 1977January 20, 1981
Succeeded by:
George H. W. Bush
Preceded by:
Jimmy Carter
Democratic Party Presidential candidate
1984 (lost)
Succeeded by:
Michael Dukakis
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