TOO high, Eunie baby," Sargent Shriver shouted as Eunice smashed a drive out of bounds. Surprisingly trim at 56, Shriver was engaged with his wife Eunice in a spirited, Kennedyesque Saturday-morning doubles match at their home in Hyannis Port on Cape Cod. A houseboy brought news that Senator George McGovern was on the phone. Without pausing, Shriver served, played out the point, finally stroking a shot weakly into the net. Only then did he casually walk off the court to take the call.
Thus did Democratic Presidential Candidate George McGovern finally land a vice-presidential running mate, climaxing one of the most bizarre weeks in American political history. It was a week in which the convention-approved nominee, Missouri Senator Thomas Eagleton, was pressured off the ticket and five respected figures in the Democratic Party turned down McGovern's desperate pleas to fill the vacancy. Even for the Democrats, noted for their internecine squabbles and disorderly manners, the spectacle was one of a party reduced to near shambles just as it started its overwhelmingly difficult campaign to reach the White House.
The dropping of Eagleton because of the uproar over his medical history was virtually unprecedented.* The rebuffs encountered by McGovern as he sought a reassuring replacement only added to the party humiliation. McGovern wooed them and practically begged, but one by one, Edward Kennedy, Abraham Ribicoff, Hubert Humphrey, Reubin Askew and Edmund Muskie all declined for various reasons their party's second highest honor. The selection of Shriver, a personable Kennedy in-law and former head of the Peace Corps and Office of Economic Opportunity (see following page), may turn out to be a good choice, but had the public aura of an act of desperation.
Typhoid. While the impact of the week's events made McGovern appear to be indecisive and ineffective, as well as a political Typhoid Mary, he was largely trapped by events beyond his control. He knew just which men he wanted and in what order of priority. He simply could not persuade them to run. Moreover, every act in the drama was played out in full view, each pursuit of a candidate, each offer and each rejection making instant headlines. It produced a confused jumble of bulletins, giving the public the head-snapping twists of a Ping Pong match. Most damaging in all of the rejections was an implication that none of the selected men dared mention: the fear that they would be joining a losing ticket.