Ex-US vice-president Walter Mondale dies

Walter Mondale was vice-president under Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1981.
Walter Mondale was vice-president under Jimmy Carter from 1977 to 1981.

Walter Mondale, a leading liberal Democratic voice of the late 20th century who was US vice-president under Jimmy Carter and lost in a landslide to Ronald Reagan in the 1984 presidential election, has died at age 93.

"Well my time has come. I am eager to rejoin Joan and Eleanor," Mondale said in a statement to his staff and released to the public after his death on Monday, referring to his late wife Joan, who died in 2014, and daughter Eleanor, who died in 2011 aged 51.

"Before I go I wanted to let you know how much you mean to me."

Mondale, the first major US party presidential nominee to pick a woman running mate, believed in an activist government and worked for civil rights, school integration, consumer protection and farm and labour interests as a US senator and vice-president during Carter's troubled one-term presidency from 1977 to 1981.

He also served as US ambassador to Japan from 1993 to 1996 under Bill Clinton.

"Today I mourn the passing of my dear friend Walter Mondale, who I consider the best vice-president in our country's history," Carter, 96, said in a statement that also praised Mondale's political skill and integrity.

Widely known as "Fritz", Mondale was the Democratic nominee in 1984 against Reagan, a popular incumbent Republican who had beaten Carter four years earlier, and selected New York Democratic US congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro as his vice-presidential running mate. Ferraro died in 2011 at age 75.

Despite the historic selection, Mondale suffered one of the worst defeats ever in a US presidential election, losing in 49 of the 50 states and carrying only his native Minnesota and Washington, DC.

Eighteen years later, grieving Minnesota Democrats beseeched Mondale, then 74, to run for the Senate after Senator Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash 11 days before the 2002 election. Mondale lost narrowly to Republican Norm Coleman.

During his race against Reagan, Mondale promised Americans he would raise their taxes, a vow that did little to help his candidacy.

"By the end of my first term, I will reduce the Reagan budget deficit by two-thirds," Mondale said during his speech in San Francisco accepting the 1984 Democratic nomination. "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."

The remark helped sink his campaign but he expressed no regrets. "It's something that I felt good about, and I thought I told the truth," he told PBS in 2004.

Mondale was a protege of fellow Minnesota liberal Hubert Humphrey, also a senator and vice-president, who lost the 1968 presidential election to Republican Richard Nixon.

Mondale served in the Senate from 1964 until he was elected as vice-president in Carter's 1976 victory over Republican Gerald Ford, who had become president after Nixon resigned in 1974 due to the Watergate scandal.

Mondale became a more engaged vice-president than many who preceded him. He played a key role in buttressing the sometimes frayed relationship between Carter's White House and the Democratic-controlled Congress.

'He did not always agree with Carter, as when he privately opposed Carter's preachy 1979 speech in which the president told Americans, besieged by a bad economy, that they were suffering from a "crisis of confidence". Mondale even considered resigning over the speech.

Carter increasingly looked like a weak president as he struggled with a hostage crisis in Iran, a Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and tough economic times at home.

The Carter-Mondale ticket lost in 1980 against Reagan and his running mate, George HW Bush. Mondale faced the daunting task of trying to defeat a popular incumbent amid economic prosperity in 1984.

Mondale was seen as the victor in his first debate with Reagan, but Reagan rebounded in the second debate. He allayed concerns about his age with his response to a question as to whether, at age 73, he was too old to be re-elected president.

"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," Reagan joked, provoking laughter even from Mondale.

Born in Ceylon, Minnesota, on January 5, 1928, Walter Frederick Mondale was the sixth of seven children. His father was a Methodist minister, his mother a music teacher.

After serving in the army, he earned a law degree at the University of Minnesota. His political life started with his work on the re-election campaign of Humphrey, then mayor of Minneapolis.

When Humphrey became vice-president in 1964, Mondale succeeded him in the Senate.

Mondale married wife Joan in 1955. They had three children, Eleanor and sons Theodore and William.

Australian Associated Press