Walter Mondale, former US vice president under Jimmy Carter, dies at 93

He was the first major US party presidential nominee to pick a female running mate

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Walter Mondale, a leading liberal Democratic voice of the late 20th century who was vice president under Jimmy Carter, died on Monday at the age of 93.

The death of the former senator, ambassador and Minnesota attorney general was announced in a statement from his family. No cause was cited.

Mondale, the first major US party presidential nominee to pick a woman running mate and who lost in a historic landslide to Ronald Reagan in the 1984 election, died in Minneapolis.

Widely known as “Fritz”, Mondale was a US senator and vice president during Mr Carter’s troubled one-term presidency from 1977 to 1981. He believed in an activist government and worked for civil rights, school integration, consumer protection and farm and labour interests.

In a statement released on Monday night, the former president said he considered Mondale “the best vice president in our country’s history”.

“Fritz Mondale provided us all with a model for public service and private behaviour,” he said.

Mondale also served as US ambassador to Japan from 1993 to 1996 under Bill Clinton, fighting for US access to markets such as cars and mobile phones.

He helped avert a trade war in June 1995 over cars and car parts, persuading Japanese officials to give American carmakers more access to Japanese dealers and pushing Japanese carmakers to buy US parts.

Mondale kept his ties to the Clintons. In 2008, he endorsed Hillary Clinton for president, switching his allegiance only after Barack Obama sealed the nomination.

Mondale was the Democratic nominee in 1984 against Reagan, a popular incumbent Republican who had beaten former president Carter four years earlier, and selected New York Democratic US congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro as his vice presidential running mate.

But Mondale suffered one of the worst defeats ever in a US presidential election, losing in 49 of the 50 states and carrying only his native Minnesota as well as Washington, DC.

It was the first of two times that Mondale was sent into political retirement by a crushing defeat.

Eighteen years later, grieving Minnesota Democrats beseeched Mondale, then 74, to run for Senate after senator Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash 11 days before the 2002 election. Mondale lost narrowly to Republican Norm Coleman, who depicted him as the greying representative of a bygone era.

During his race against Reagan, Mondale promised Americans he would raise their taxes, a vow that did little to help his candidacy.

“I mean business. By the end of my first term, I will reduce the Reagan budget deficit by two thirds,” Mondale said during his speech in San Francisco accepting the 1984 Democratic presidential nomination. “Let’s tell the truth. It must be done, it must be done. Mr Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I. He won’t tell you. I just did.”

The remark helped sink his campaign. Even years later, he expressed no regrets. “I’m really glad I did it,” he told PBS in 2004. “It’s something that I felt good about and I thought I told the truth.”

FILE - In this Monday, July 26, 2004, file photo, former Vice President Walter Mondale smiles with his wife, Joan, in the Minnesota delegation during the Democratic National Convention at the FleetCenter in Boston. Mondale, a liberal icon who lost the most lopsided presidential election after bluntly telling voters to expect a tax increase if he won, died Monday, April 19, 2021. He was 93. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta, File)
Former vice president Walter Mondale with his wife, Joan, in the Minnesota delegation during the 2004 Democratic National Convention. AP

Earlier that year, Mondale made a memorable political quip when, during a primary debate, he tried to depict Gary Hart, a rival for his party’s presidential nomination, as all style and no substance by asking: “Where’s the beef?”

The line, borrowed from a humorous hamburger commercial popular at the time, hurt Mr Hart’s campaign.

Mondale was a protege of fellow Minnesota liberal Hubert Humphrey, also a senator and vice president, who lost the 1968 presidential election to Republican Richard Nixon.

Mondale served in the Senate from 1964 until he was elected as vice president in former president Carter’s 1976 victory over incumbent Republican Gerald Ford, who had become president after Nixon resigned in 1974 due to the Watergate corruption scandal.

Mondale became a more engaged vice president than many who preceded him. He played a key role in buttressing the sometimes frayed relationship between the Carter White House and the Democrat-controlled Congress.

Mondale and his wife, Joan Adams Mondale, were married in 1955.

The couple had two sons, Ted and William, and a daughter, Eleanor. Eleanor Mondale became a broadcast journalist and TV host, with credits including CBS This Morning and programmes with E! Entertainment Television. She died of cancer in 2011. Ted Mondale served for six years in the Minnesota Senate and made an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination for governor in 1998. William Mondale served for a time as an assistant attorney general.

Joan Mondale died in 2014 at age 83 after an extended illness.