Robert Kennedy was once asked to name the most decent man in the Senate. "George McGovern," he replied. "He's the only decent man in the Senate." South Dakota's junior Senator felt much the same way about Kennedy. The two were close friends for years, from the time that McGovern took over John F. Kennedy's Food for Peace program in 1961.
Since Robert Kennedy's death, McGovern, 46, has been an unofficial rallying point for disenchanted R.F.K. forces who are unwilling to accept either Hubert Humphrey or Eugene McCarthy. Last week, just 16 days before the opening of the Democratic Convention, McGovern made it official. In the Senate Caucus Room where both McCarthy and Robert Kennedy had announced their candidacies, McGovern declared himself in the running.
Twin Goals. "I make no claim to wear the Kennedy mantle," the Senator said, although he then went on to cite the Kennedy name nine times during his 15-minute speech. "I believe deeply in the twin goals for which Robert Kennedy gave his lifean end to the war in Viet Nam and a passionate commitment to heal the divisions in our own society." His campaign program is not significantly different from McCarthy's. McGovern has strongly opposed the war since 1963.
A former college history professor, McGovern was under no illusions that his presidential campaign, for the present at least, would be anything more than a holding action designed to rally Kennedy forces. He suggested that a principal object of his candidacy was to apply additional pressure on party regulars to adopt strong platform planks on ending the war and resolving the urban crisis. He praised both McCarthy and Humphrey, who was his neighbor in Chevy Chase, Md., for nine years. He pledged that if either wins the nomination, "he will have my active supportnot only for his own considerable merit but because there is nothing in Mr. Nixon's past record to indicate that he is a man of either peace or compassion."
Besides the 26 South Dakota delegate votes, McGovern will doubtless inherit a number of the more than 300 primary delegate votes that Kennedy had amassed before his death.
Some McCarthy supporters sniped that McGovern's entry will split the dissidents and thus aid Humphrey's cause. On the other hand, it may actually strengthen the anti-Administration forces by engaging many presently inactive Kennedy supporters and bringing their added pressure to bear against the Vice President. Almost as soon as Mc Govern announced, old New Frontiersmen Pierre Salinger and Arthur Schlesinger Jr. endorsed him. Salinger and former R.F.K. Press Secretary Frank Mankiewicz are expected to join his staff.