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George McGovern--remember him?--endorses Clinton

October 7, 2007 |  2:08 am

Hard to believe your eyes earlier today, but there he was looking thinner, frailer and all of his 85 years old.

George McGovern, with some effort but nattily-dressed, made his way across an Iowa stage littered with hay bales, withered cornstalks and bright-orange pumpkins in a huge, sweltering barn on the Johnson County Fairgrounds. Hundreds more watched on a giant  TV screen in a nearby exhibition hall.

This obviously was not the first time that the decent Democratic loser who was walloped by Richard Nixon in 1972 visited this liberal eastern pocket of the Hawkeye State. But he was there this time for a special reason. And The Times' political veteran Mark Z. Barabak was there too.

The ostensible occasion was actually another one of those fundraiser barbecues that local Iowa Democrats are so fond of. This large a crowd this close to the Iowa caucuses, however, is sure to draw a pack of candidates and there on hand were Hillary Clinton, Chris Dodd, John Edwards, Dennis Kucinich and Bill Richardson along with representatives of Joe Biden and Barack Obama.

There was the usual amount of Bush-bashing and Edwards again criticized Clinton for her recent vote on the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. But the high point of the day was McGovern's 10-minutes of remarks.

He recalled receiving a phone call in 1972 from his campaign manager, someone named Gary Hart, saying he'd come upon a bright, young man in Arkansas named Bill Clinton who had a hardworking friend named Hillary Rodham and they both were going to work Texas for McGovern.

"There's nothing in politics," said McGovern, "that requires more courage than trying to sell George McGovern in Texas." The crowd roared. McGovern praised the entire current field of Democratic candidates and said he hoped to live long enough to see an African American president. But, he added, "We have an old rule of courtesy in the United States: ladies first." Another crowd roar.

And thus the Democratic candidate from 1972 returned the favor to the wannabe Democratic candidate of 2008. He endorsed her candidacy.

Clinton's words of appreciation were interrupted by protestors chanting, "Hands off Iran." But she persevered. All in all, not a bad way to start a four-day swing through Iowa.

--Andrew Malcolm

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