POLITICS: McGovern Moves Front, Maybe Center

  • Share
  • Read Later

LAS VEGAS Oddsmaker Jimmy the Greek last January figured him a 50-to-1 shot to be nominated President. Only three months ago, national polls rated him 5% in any Democratic field. In the corridors of the Senate Office Building last winter, like the Ancient Mariner he would stop reporters and ask plaintively: "Why aren't you covering me? I'm a serious candidate!"

Last week it became precisely clear how serious South Dakota's George McGovern is. With a certain cool relentlessness, he swept another four primaries—New Jersey, New Mexico, South Dakota and, most crucially, the winner-take-all contest in California, with its 271 delegates. Anticipating at least another 200 delegates in next week's New York primary, along with 150 delegates from remaining state conventions and some converts among the uncommitted, McGovern seemed likely to go to Miami Beach on July 10 armed with more than 1,300 votes, apparently within easy striking distance of the 1,509 necessary for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Thus, as it caromed out of the long and expensive primary spring, the slightly dazed Democratic Party found itself confronting something close to a fait accompli. Hubert Humphrey, far behind with 324½ delegates, vowed to fight on, in fading hopes that the convention arithmetic might still be changed. Maine's Edmund Muskie, an inactive candidate, late last week declined to take himself out of the race and free his 172 delegates.

The hopes of both Humphrey and Muskie may have been tinged with a lingering disbelief. Here was plain, slow-spoken George McGovern, minister's son, prairie populist, leading the armies of commitment and ideological chic. However ruggedly colorless the driver, his bandwagon rolled flamboyantly on, bright with the fresh-faced young and the movie stars and intellectuals who had found their new political vehicle. Behind a superbly organized and financed army of volunteers, McGovern had all but won the delegate battle through the primaries and state conventions. It was a neat touch that he was playing by the party reform rules that he had helped formulate. To followers with memories of 1968, McGovern's impending nomination seemed nearly too good to be true.

Stunned. To more conservative Democrats, including Southerners, many labor leaders and party professionals stunned by the force of the new politics, McGovern still seemed a gamble too dangerous to risk. In his pledges to cut defense spending by $32 billion, redistribute the nation's wealth and reform its tax structures—the "radical" aura surrounding him—they saw forebodings, of an electoral disaster.

  1. Previous Page
  2. 1
  3. 2
  4. 3
  5. 4