Wire Service Stories: The Presidential Candidate Picks His Vice President

By Carl Leubsdorf

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Eagleton looked like the perfect running mate for McGovern.

I was interested to read Mike Feinsilber’s account of how his intuition helped him be ready to flash the news that President Johnson wouldn’t run again in 1968. I had a similar experience while with the AP when Senator George McGovern made the ill-fated choice of Senator Thomas Eagleton as his 1972 running mate.

I had thought for some time that Eagleton was a logical running mate for McGovern as a moderate centrist Democrat with close ties to labor and a Roman Catholic. When I interviewed McGovern on the day of the final primaries in June, and we discussed running mates, I asked him about Eagleton but got a non-committal reply. As I recall, he mentioned both Senator Abe Ribicoff, who was his first choice but declined, and Senator Edward Kennedy, who also declined to be considered.

On the day after McGovern won the Democratic nomination at that really screwed-up 1972 convention, he convened his advisers to pick a running mate, as nominees did in those days. It did not go well. The list was long, and his advisers were split. At one point, he supposedly settled on Boston Mayor Kevin White, only to have Senator Kennedy nix that choice.

I kept thinking Eagleton might emerge, so I spent much of the day calling a source close to the Missouri senator. It was so wide open, that I couldn’t keep in touch with everyone, and my contacts there made it possible that, if he were chosen, my hunch might enable me to get the beat.

And that’s what happened. Just after McGovern settled on Eagleton, but before he made the announcement, I reached my source, who answered “Hooray,” rather than “Hello.” A question elicited the information that Eagleton had just gotten the call. So it’s set, I asked. “Yes,” my source said. That was good enough for me, since I knew the source well and his replies were pretty explicit. I filed the Bulletin, and we had a beat, though it lasted only a few minutes before the official announcement.

I should concede that, after that, things went downhill, for McGovern and me. It took the convention hours to confirm the choice, forcing McGovern to give his acceptance speech at about 2 a.m., something he believed (erroneously) to his death was a significant factor in his landslide defeat. Two weeks later, while McGovern (with me and other reporters) was on vacation in South Dakota, Knight Ridder’s Bob Boyd and Clark Hoyt uncovered the story of Eagleton’s prior hospitalization for depression, and the two candidates held a news conference to announce it themselves.

In those days, we filed to the nearest main AP bureau, rather than Washington. When I called the Chicago bureau, I decided (probably wrongly) to make it an Urgent, so I could dictate three grafs to cover the complexity of the disclosure, rather than a one paragraph Bulletin.

The only teletype operator on duty in Chicago was busy with the hog price report, or maybe it was wheat, so my Urgent sat there for a while, whereas a Bulletin probably would not have. Fortunately, UPI had some delays too.

Later that day, I caught up with McGovern and the result of the interview was the story that prompted him to proclaim he was 1,000 percent behind Eagleton. That didn’t last too long either, but it did get me a place in many accounts of that election. And it all started with my hunch about Eagleton.
Carl Leubsdorf was an AP reporter from 1960 to 1975 in New Orleans, New York, and Washington—from 1972 to 1975 he was the AP’s chief political reporter. He then covered Washington for the Baltimore Sun from 1976 to 1981, and for the Dallas Morning News from 1981 to 2008. He now is a Washington columnist for the Dallas Morning News. This post first appeared today in Connecting, a newsletter compiled by Paul Stevens for retired and current AP staffers.


  1. You apparently missed a letter to the editor by me that got published in MAD magazine. I turned age 9 that summer of 1972. MAD was criticized for something. The line I remember from my letter was, “I fully Eagleton you.”

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