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Eugene Joseph “Gene” McCarthy died on December 10, 2005 at the age of 89, he was an American politician, poet, and a long-time member of the United States Congress from Minnesota.
Born in Watkins, Minnesota on March 29, 1916, he was the son of a deeply religious mother of German descent, Anna (née Baden), and strong-willed father of Irish descent, Michael J. McCarthy, who was a postmaster and cattle buyer known for his earthy wit.
McCarthy grew up in Watkins, Minnesota, as one of four children, and attended St. Anthony’s Catholic School in Watkins.
A bright student who spent hours reading his aunt’s Harvard Classics, he was deeply influenced by the monks at nearby St. John’s Abbey and University.
In 1968 Allard K. Lowenstein and his anti-Vietnam War Dump Johnson movement recruited McCarthy to run against incumbent President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Reportedly, Lowenstein first attempted to recruit Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who declined to run, then Senator George McGovern, who also declined to run against Johnson.
McCarthy entered and almost defeated Johnson in the New Hampshire Democratic primary, with the intention of influencing the federal government — then controlled by Democrats — to curtail its involvement in the Vietnam War.
A number of anti-war college students and other activists from around the country traveled to New Hampshire to support McCarthy’s campaign.
McCarthy declared his candidacy on November 30, 1967, saying, “I am concerned that the Administration seems to have set no limit to the price it is willing to pay for a military victory.”
Political experts and the news media dismissed his candidacy, and he was given little chance of making any impact against Johnson in the primaries.
But public perception of him changed following the Tet Offensive (January 30 – February 23, 1968), the aftermath of which saw many Democrats grow disillusioned with the war, and quite a few interested in an alternative to LBJ.
McCarthy said “My decision to challenge the President’s position and the administration’s position has been strengthened by recent announcements out of the administration.
The evident intention to escalate and to intensify the war in Vietnam, and on the other hand, the absence of any positive indication or suggestion for a compromise or for a negotiated political settlement.”
In 1970 McCarthy decided not to run for reelection to the Senate. Humphrey won his seat, and McCarthy turned to a career of writing and lecturing.
In 1972 he conducted a lacklustre campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, which was won by Senator George S. McGovern.
Four years later McCarthy made a more vigorous, but again unsuccessful, attempt to win the presidency as an independent; his campaigns in 1988 and 1992 also failed. In 1982 McCarthy made an unsuccessful bid for the Senate seat from Minnesota.
McCarthy died of complications from Parkinson’s disease, following his death the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University dedicated their Public Policy Center theEugene J. McCarthy Center for Public Policy.
The Democratic party memorialized his death during the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado, on August 28, 2008.
The memorial included pictures of several prominent Democrats who had died during the 4-year period since the 2004 Convention displayed on a large screen.