In 1972, South Dakota Sen. George McGovern receives the Democratic Party's nomination for president of the United States. In his acceptance speech, he ends weeks of speculation by naming his Massachusetts colleague Edward M. "Ted" Kennedy as his running-mate.
It is a controverial choice. Three years earlier, Kennedy had been involved in a car accident at Chappaquiddick in Martha's Vineyard in which a young female companion, Mary Jo Kopechne, drowned when the car the senator was driving went off a bridge. Hostile rumors about the incident have plagued Kennedy ever since.
Kennedy for running mate by Eric LippsWatching from the convention floor is yet another senator, Thomas Eagleton of Missouri. An early favorite for the VP choice, Eagleton had seen his chances evaporate when it was revealed that he was the source of a quote in conservative columnist Bob Novak's April 27 column labeling McGovern, who had just won the Massachusetts primary, the candidate of "amnesty, abortion and legalization of pot".
The choice of Kennedy proves to be a strategic blunder. Popular as he is in the Northeast, in California and in parts of the upper Midwest, Kennedy is despised with visceral fury throughout the South, where it is not uncommon to hear he charge that he had deliberately "murdered" the unfortunate Ms. Kopechne because she had, so the claim goes, been carrying his illegitimate child".
That November, McGovern loses 42 out of 50 states. The day after the election, the still-bitter Sen. Eagleton tells reporters he is confident that the Democrats would have done "much better" with him on the ticket. It will be discovered in 1975 that Eagleton had been concealing a scandal of his own: he had checked himself into the hospital theree times for "physical and mental exhaaustion", had received shock therapy twice, at the time of the 1972 election was on the powerful antipsychotic drug Thorazine. Publicly, Sen. McGovern is gracious about the revelations. Privately, he complains to intimates, "This would have been better for the party than Chappaquiddick?". McGovern will admit to this comment only many years later, in an interview on Meet the Press during his final run for the presidency in 1984