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Walter Mondale

In office
January 20, 1977 – January 20, 1981
President Jimmy Carter
Preceded by Nelson Rockefeller
Succeeded by George H. W. Bush

In office
December 30, 1964 – December 30, 1976
Preceded by Hubert Humphrey
Succeeded by Wendell Anderson

In office
September 21, 1993 – December 15, 1996
Preceded by Michael Armacost
Succeeded by Tom Foley

In office
Governor Orville Freeman
Elmer Andersen
Karl Rolvaag
Preceded by Miles Lord
Succeeded by Robert Mattson

Born January 5, 1928 (1928-01-05) (age 82)
Ceylon, Minnesota, United States
Political party Democratic Party
Spouse(s) Joan Adams
Children Theodore Mondale
Eleanor Mondale
William Mondale
Alma mater Macalester College
University of Minnesota Law School
Religion Presbyterianism
Military service
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1951–1953
Rank Corporal
Unit Fort Knox

Walter Frederick Mondale (born January 5, 1928) is an American politician and member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. He was the 42nd Vice President of the United States (1977–81) under President Jimmy Carter, a two-term United States Senator from Minnesota, and the Democratic Party nominee for president in 1984. Later, during the administration of Democratic President Bill Clinton, he served as the United States Ambassador to Japan from 1993 to 1996.


Early life

Walter Frederick Mondale was born on January 5, 1928 in Ceylon, Minnesota, the son of Claribel Hope (née Cowan), a part-time music teacher, and Theodore Sigvaard Mondale, a Methodist minister.[1][2][3] His father's family was Norwegian American.[4] Mondale spent his boyhood in the small towns of southern Minnesota, including Heron Lake and Elmore, the latter of which he claimed as his hometown for the purposes of his campaign biography during the 1980 presidential campaign.[citation needed] He attended public schools. His half-brother Lester Mondale was a Unitarian minister.

Mondale was educated at Macalester College in St. Paul and the University of Minnesota, where he earned his B.A. in Political Science, graduating in 1950. He did not have enough money to attend law school. He enlisted in the U.S. Army and served for two years at Fort Knox during the Korean War, reaching the rank of corporal.[citation needed] Through the support of the G.I. Bill, he was able to attend law school, and graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1956. While at law school he served on the Minnesota Law Review and as a law clerk in the Minnesota Supreme Court under Justice Thomas F. Gallagher.[citation needed] He began practicing law in Minneapolis, and continued to do so for four years before entering the political arena.[citation needed]

Entry into politics and U.S. Senator

Mondale was became involved in national politics in the 1940s. At the age of 20, he was visible in Minnesota politics by helping organize Hubert Humphrey's successful Senate campaign in 1948. Minnesota Governor Orville Freeman appointed Mondale Minnesota Attorney General in 1960, filling the vacancy left by Miles Lord, who was appointed to be U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota by President John F. Kennedy. Mondale had just managed Freeman's successful gubernatorial campaign. Mondale was 32, and four years out of law school when he became attorney general of Minnesota. He served for two terms as attorney general. He also served as a member of the President’s Consumer Advisory Council from 1960 to 1964.

Senator Walter F. Mondale

On December 30, 1964, Mondale was appointed by Minnesota Governor Karl Rolvaag to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by Hubert Humphrey's resignation after being elected Vice President of the United States. In 1966, Mondale defeated Republican candidate Robert A. Forsythe, 53.9% to 45.2%. In 1972, George McGovern offered him an opportunity to be his running mate, which Mondale declined.[citation needed] The voters of Minnesota returned Mondale to the Senate again in 1972 with over 57% of the vote.

During his years as a senator, Mondale served on the Finance Committee, the Labor and Public Welfare Committee, Budget Committee, and the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. He also served as chairman of the Select Committee on Equal Education Opportunity and as chairman of the Intelligence Committee's Domestic Task Force. He additionally served as chairman of the Labor and Public Welfare Committee's subcommittee on Children and Youth, as well as chairman of the Senate subcommittee on social security financing.[5] As a Senator, Mondale endured public scorn for his role in the investigation of the Apollo 1 fire on January 27, 1967. Mondale also served in 1975 on the Church Committee, which investigated abuses by U.S. intelligence agencies. He served in the 88th, 89th, 90th, 91st, 92nd, 93rd, and 94th congresses.

Vice Presidency

When Jimmy Carter won the Democratic nomination for president in 1976, he chose Mondale as his running mate. The ticket was narrowly elected on November 2, 1976, and Mondale was inaugurated as Vice President of the United States on January 20, 1977. He became the fourth vice president in four years.

Under Carter, Mondale traveled extensively throughout the nation and the world advocating the administration's foreign policy. Mondale was the first vice president to have an office in the White House, and established the concept of "activist Vice President". He expanded the vice president's role from that of figurehead to presidential adviser, full-time participant, and troubleshooter for the administration.[citation needed] Subsequent vice presidents have followed this model in the administrations in which they serve. Mondale established the tradition of weekly lunches with the president, which continues to this day.

Carter and Mondale were renominated at the 1980 Democratic National Convention, but soundly lost to the Republican Ticket of Ronald Reagan and George Bush. That year, Mondale opened the XIII Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid, New York (Ronald Reagan was the first president to open the Olympic Games in the U.S., held in Los Angeles in 1984).

Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale are the longest-living post-presidential team in American history. On December 11, 2007, they had been out of office for 26 years and 325 days, surpassing the former record established by President John Adams and Vice President Thomas Jefferson, who both died on July 4, 1826.

Mondale and future Minnesota DFL Senator Mark Dayton
Walter Mondale and Jimmy Carter, in front of Presidential helicopter Marine One in January 1979
Vice President Mondale bust from the Senate collection

Presidential nominee of 1984

After losing the 1980 election in a landslide, Mondale returned briefly to the practice of law at Winston and Strawn, a large Chicago-based law firm, but he had no intention of staying out of politics for long.

Mondale ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in the 1984 election, and from the early going, he was the frontrunner. His opposition included Rev. Jesse Jackson and Senator Gary Hart of Colorado. Hart pulled an upset by winning the New Hampshire primary in March, but Mondale had a large portion of the party leadership behind him. To great effect, Mondale used the Wendy's slogan "Where's the beef?" to describe Hart's policies as lacking depth. Rev. Jackson, regarded by many as the first serious African-American candidate for President, managed to hold on longer, but Mondale clinched the nomination with the majority of delegates on the first ballot.

At the Democratic Convention, Mondale chose U.S. Representative Geraldine A. Ferraro of New York as his running mate, making her the first woman nominated for that position by a major party. Aides later said that Mondale was determined to establish a precedent with his vice presidential candidate, considering San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein, also a female, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, an African American, and San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros, a Mexican American, as other finalists for the nomination.[6] Others however preferred Senator Lloyd Bentsen because he would appeal to the Deep South, or even nomination rival Gary Hart who was expected to perform ten points better than Mondale in a hypothetical matchup with President Reagan. Ferraro, as a Roman Catholic, came under fire from some members of the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church for being pro-choice. Further controversy erupted over her changing positions regarding the release of her husband's tax returns.

When he made his acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention, Mondale said: "By the end of my first term, I will reduce the Reagan budget deficit by two-thirds. Let's tell the truth. It must be done, it must be done. Mr. Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I. He won't tell you. I just did."[7] While this was meant to show that Mondale would be honest with voters, it was largely interpreted as a campaign pledge to raise taxes, which was unappealing to many voters.

Mondale ran a liberal campaign, supporting a nuclear freeze and the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). He spoke against what he considered to be unfairness in Reagan's economic policies and the need to reduce federal budget deficits. However, he was going up against a popular incumbent and his campaign was widely considered ineffective. Also, he was perceived as supporting the poor at the expense of the middle class. Southern whites and northern blue collar workers who usually voted Democratic switched their support to Reagan because they credited him with the economic boom and saw him as strong on national security issues.

In the first televised debate, Mondale strong performed unexpectedly well, by questioning Reagan's age and capacity to endure the grueling demands of the presidency (Reagan was the oldest person to serve as president — 73 at the time — while Mondale was 56). In the next debate on October 21, 1984, Reagan effectively deflected the issue by quipping, "I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience."

In the election, Mondale was defeated in a landslide, winning only the District of Columbia and his home state of Minnesota and even there his margin of victory was fewer than 3,800 votes,[8] securing only 13 electoral votes to Reagan's 525. The result was the worst electoral college defeat for any Democratic Party candidate in history, and the worst for any major-party candidate since Alf Landon's loss to Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936.

Mondale received 37,577,352 votes — a total of 40.6% of the popular vote in the election. Mondale received 40% or higher in California, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Thus, he performed marginally better than Barry Goldwater in 1964, George McGovern in 1972 or George H. W. Bush in 1992; though it should be noted that the 1992 vote was split by Ross Perot, who received 19% of the vote.

Private citizen and ambassador

Former Vice President Mondale giving a lecture in the Senate in September 2002

Following the election, Mondale returned to private law practice, with Dorsey & Whitney in Minnesota in 1987. From 1986 to 1993, Mondale was chairman of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. During the presidency of Bill Clinton, he was U.S. Ambassador to Japan from 1993 to 1996 (see note on prime minister above), chaired a bipartisan group to study campaign finance reform, and was Clinton's special envoy to Indonesia in 1998.

Walter Mondale as U.S. Ambassador to Japan

Until his appointment as U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Mondale was a Distinguished University Fellow in Law and Public Affairs at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, at the University of Minnesota. In 1990, Mondale established the Mondale Policy Forum at the Humphrey Institute. The forum has brought together leading scholars and policymakers for annual conferences on domestic and international issues. He also served on nonprofit boards of directors for the Guthrie Theatre Foundation, Mayo Foundation, National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, Diogenes Institute of Higher Learning, Prince Hall Masonic Temple, RAND Corporation and the University of Minnesota Foundation. His corporate board memberships included BlackRock Advantage Term Trust and other BlackRock Mutual Funds, Cargill Incorporated, CNA Financial Corporation, the Encyclopædia Britannica, First Financial Fund and other Prudential Mutual Funds, Northwest Airlines and United HealthCare Corporation.

Mondale spoke before the Senate on September 4, 2002, when he delivered a lecture on his service, with commentary on the transformation of the office of the Vice President during the Carter administration, the Senate cloture rule for ending debate, and his view on the future of the Senate in U.S. political history. The lecture was a part of a continuing Senate "Leaders Lecture Series" that ran from 1998-2002.[9]

2002 Senate election and beyond

In 2002, Democratic US Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, who was running for re-election, died in a plane crash just 11 days before the November 5 election. At the age of 74, Mondale replaced Wellstone on the ballot, at the urging of Wellstone's relatives. This Senate seat was the one that Mondale himself had held, before resigning to become Vice President in 1977.

During his debate with the Republican nominee, former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman, Mondale emphasized his own experience in foreign affairs while painting Coleman as a finger-in-the-wind opportunist. "We've seen you shift around, Norman," Mondale intoned, alluding to Coleman's past as an anti-war college activist and, more recently, as a Democrat who had changed his party allegiance to the GOP while serving as mayor of St. Paul.

In a major upset, Mondale narrowly lost the election, finishing with 1,067,246 votes (47.34%) to Coleman's 1,116,697 (49.53%) out of 2,254,639 votes cast, earning him the unique distinction of having lost a state-wide election in all 50 states as the nominee of a major party (he lost the other 49 in the 1984 Presidential Election).

The election was also marked by the controversy surrounding Senator Wellstone's memorial event, which many critics, including then Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura (IM), considered to have been overly partisan.

Upon conceding defeat, Mondale stated: "At the end of what will be my last campaign, I want to say to Minnesota, you always treated me well, you always listened to me."[10]

Former Vice President Mondale (right) on stage with Democratic presidential nominee, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts (center) and former Senator Max Cleland of Georgia (left) on the rally in Minnesota, October 21, 2004

In 2004 Mondale became co-chairman of the Constitution Project's bipartisan Right to Counsel Committee.[11] He endorsed Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) for the President of the United States and supported her campaign for the White House in 2008.[12] On June 3, 2008, following the final primary contests, Mondale switched his endorsement to Illinois Senator Barack Obama, who had clinched the nomination the previous evening.

Following the U.S. Presidential election of 2004 and the mid-term elections of 2006, Mondale is seen talking with Al Franken about the possibility of the latter running for Norm Coleman's U.S. Senate seat in 2008 in Franken's film God Spoke.[13] In the film, Mondale encourages Franken to run, but cautions him, saying that Coleman's allies and the Republican Party were going to look for anything that they could use against him. Franken ultimately ran and won in the 2008 Senate election by 725 votes after the election results had been contested in court by Coleman until June 30, 2009.[14]


His wife, Joan Mondale, is a national advocate for the arts and was the Honorary Chairman of the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities during the Carter Administration.

The Mondales' eldest son, Theodore A. "Ted" Mondale, is an entrepreneur and the CEO of Nazca Solutions, a technology fulfillment venture. He and his wife, Pam, are the parents of three children. He is also a former Minnesota state senator. In 1998, Mondale sought the Democratic primary nomination for Minnesota governor. The race included three other candidates from families famously connected in Minnesota politics: Skip Humphrey, the son of the late Vice President Hubert Humphrey (then Attorney General); Mark Dayton of the founding family of Target Corporation (then State Auditor); and Mike Freeman, son of former governor Orville Freeman (then Hennepin County, Minnesota district attorney). Mondale, a fiscal moderate who had distanced himself from labor, did not prevail in the primary.

Later, in 1999, he was appointed as chairman of the Metropolitan Council by Governor Jesse Ventura. He oversaw the initiation of high density housing and retail development in the Twin Cities, as well as light-rail transportation planning from the suburban areas to the central cities.

The Mondales' daughter, Eleanor, is a television personality, who began her television career at a Minneapolis local television affiliate, then reporting for the E! Online cable channel and eventually the CBS show "This Morning." She has also had small roles in a few movies and TV shows. Ms. Mondale has been battling brain cancer since 2005. The cancer had been in remission through the summer of 2006, but she announced in February 2008 that a small tumor had returned and she would seek treatment at the Mayo Clinic. Ms. Mondale is currently co-host of WCCO Radio's midday show with Susie Jones, following the retirement of Pat Miles.

Mondale's youngest son, William H. Mondale, is an attorney and a former Assistant Attorney General for the State of Minnesota from 1990 to 2000. He is currently an Assistant Hennepin County Attorney in Minneapolis. He has a daughter Charlotte A. S. Mondale, born March 2007, who was named after Charlotte Ohmer, Joan Mondale's grandmother.

His great-nephew, Devin Day maintains an important position with the Minnesota Reading Corps.

Walter Mondale continues to maintain a residence near Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis, where he can frequently be seen walking his dogs. Mondale is known as a down-to-earth, friendly neighbor and an avid fan of the British comedy troupe Monty Python. Although his family has been associated with Methodism, Mondale is a Presbyterian.

He enjoys fishing, reading Shakespeare and historical accounts, barbecuing, skiing, and tennis.[15]

In popular culture

  • Bill Murray and Garrett Morris played Mondale on Saturday Night Live in the late 1970s.
  • In Aaron Spelling's teen drama, Beverly Hills, 90210 the character Brandon Walsh honored Walter Mondale by naming his car after him.
  • In Berke Breathed's Bloom County, a story surrounding around Bill the Cat's run for president, Mondale is briefly Bill's running mate. In another strip, the Meadow Party is depressed because a recent opinion poll put Bill and Opus "Just above Mondale, just below Pitted Prunes."
  • In Futurama Season 1 Episode 11 ("Mars University"), character Amy Wong mentions him when she says, "Boring! Let's hear about Walter Mondale already." This remark was made to a professor who was drawn to look like Mondale.
  • One of his ads for his presidential campaign was featured on The Daily Show on March 3, 2008 as a satirical comparison to an ad of Hillary Clinton's.
  • In the Simpsons episode, "Lisa's First Word", Homer Simpson reads a headline that describes Mondale's "Where's the beef?" comment during the 1984 Presidential Election. Homer laughs approvingly and remarks "No wonder he won Minnesota!"
  • In the Simpsons episode, "Bart vs. Australia", the Simpson family escapes from Australia with help from a helicopter pilot who lands them on the USS Walter Mondale, a "laundry-ship."
  • In the Simpsons episode, "Mr. Spritz Goes to Washington", a janitor who "looks like" Walter Mondale helps Congressman Krusty get a bill to become law using underhanded methods.
  • In the American Dad episode, "Stan Knows Best" Stan says "Rubarb" when Hayley moves in with her boyfriend, Jeff. He claimed the word was a subliminal order he supposedly implanted into her subconscious to kill Walter Mondale. However, it is revealed that the word was implanted into Steve's mind. "The Best Christmas Story Never," Stan goes back in time and alters the past, where Walter Mondale becomes the President instead of Ronald Reagan, however quickly hands over the US to the Soviet Union.
  • In an episode of The O.C., The Case of the Franks, main character Sandy Cohen, in a flashback, is campaigning for the Mondale and Ferraro campaign. He attempts to give future wife Kirsten Cohen a campaign button and states that he would tell her why Mondale and Ferraro wouldn't win, but campaigning for them felt right.
  • In the Saved by the Bell episode, "The Election", when Zach has far surpassed Jesse in the polls for class president, Kelly tells Jesse she will go down in history with George McGovern, Walter Mondale, and the Cleveland Indians.
  • He is portrayed by actor John Slattery in the HBO Miniseries From the Earth to the Moon.
  • He was metioned in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode, "Prince of Space". The quote from Mike Nelson is "Walter Mondale arrives." The movie they are watching was filmed in Japan.

Published works

Twelve Years and Thirteen Days: Remembering Paul and Sheila Wellstone, co-written with Terry Gydesen, was published in 2003; Crisis and Opportunity in a Changing Japan, co-written with William Regis Farrell, was published in 1999; and The Accountability of Power: Toward a Responsible Presidency, was written in 1976.

Norwegian ancestry

Mondale has always maintained strong ties to his ancestral Norway. His family surname was originally Mundal and it originated in Mundal, Fjærland, Norway.[16] Upon entering the Senate in 1964 he took over the seat of vice president Hubert Humphrey, another Norwegian-American. In later years Mondale has served on the executive committee of the Peace Prize Forum, an annual conference co-sponsored by the Norwegian Nobel Institute and five Midwestern colleges of Norwegian heritage. During Norway's Centennial Celebration in 2005, he chaired the committee to promote and develop cultural activities between Norway and Norwegian-American organizations.

While he was in office, Twin Cities Public Television produced a documentary about him entitled Walter Mondale: There's a Fjord in Your Past, a play on the well-known advertising slogan, "There's a Ford in Your Future."

On December 5, 2007, Norwegian minister of foreign affairs Jonas Gahr Støre announced that Walter Mondale would be named Honorary Consul-General of Norway, representing the Norwegian state in Minnesota.[17]

Electoral history

Further reading

  • Gillon, Steven M. The Democrats’ Dilemma: Walter F. Mondale and the Liberal Legacy. 1992
  • Mondale, Walter. The Accountability of Power. 1975.


External links

Legal offices

Political offices
Preceded by
Nelson Rockefeller
Vice President of the United States
January 20, 1977 – January 20, 1981
Succeeded by
George H. W. Bush
Legal offices
Preceded by
Miles Lord
Minnesota Attorney General
Succeeded by
Robert W. Mattson, Sr.
United States Senate
Preceded by
Hubert Humphrey
United States Senator (Class 2) from Minnesota
December 30, 1964 – December 30, 1976
Served alongside: Eugene McCarthy, Hubert Humphrey
Succeeded by
Wendell Anderson
Party political offices
Preceded by
Paul Wellstone
Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party nominee
for United States Senator from Minnesota (Class 2)

Succeeded by
Al Franken
Preceded by
Jimmy Carter
Democratic Party presidential candidate
Succeeded by
Michael Dukakis
Preceded by
Sargent Shriver
Democratic Party vice presidential candidate
1976, 1980
Succeeded by
Geraldine Ferraro
Preceded by
Hubert Humphrey
Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party nominee
for United States Senator from Minnesota (Class 2)

1966, 1972
Succeeded by
Wendell Anderson
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Michael Armacost
United States Ambassador to Japan
Succeeded by
Tom Foley
United States order of precedence
Preceded by
Linda Lingle
Governor of Hawaii
United States order of precedence
Former Vice President of the United States
Succeeded by
Dan Quayle
Former Vice President of the United States


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