Monday, March 05, 2007

Former Senator Thomas Eagleton dead at 77

Former Sen. Eagleton dead at 77

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Former U.S. Sen. Thomas Eagleton, briefly a running mate of Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern until revelations of his treatment for depression forced him out of the race, died on Sunday at age 77, his family said.

The cause of death was a combination of heart, respiratory and other problems. The former Missouri senator had been in declining health for many years, the family said in a statement.

Eagleton, a leading opponent of the Vietnam War, withdrew from the Democratic presidential ticket days after being chosen in July 1972 when it was revealed that he had been hospitalized for depression and underwent electric shock treatments.

McGovern, a U.S. senator from South Dakota, went on to lose the general election to Richard Nixon in one of the worst presidential election defeats in history, losing 49 of the 50 states including his home state.

While Nixon was seen as virtually unbeatable, McGovern's wavering on whether to keep Eagleton -- a junior senator chosen after several more prominent politicians turned McGovern down -- was a major stumble that contributed to the debacle.

McGovern at first said he backed Eagleton "1,000 percent" and had no intention of dropping him from the ticket. But facing an uproar, McGovern then worked behind the scenes to let word go out that Eagleton should withdraw.

McGovern then replaced him with Sargent Shriver, an in-law of the Democratic powerhouse Kennedy family.

Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts in a statement called Eagleton a "Missouri senator in the great tradition of Harry Truman," and said Eagleton "made a difference on every issue he touched in the Senate, especially Vietnam."

Eagleton was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1968, was re-elected twice and served until 1987.

In 1973, Eagleton offered an amendment to a defense spending bill to cut off funding for bombing Cambodia, a move that played a key part in ending U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

He also was instrumental in major environmental legislation including the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.

After his retirement from the Senate, Eagleton practiced law, and from 1987 until 1999 he was a professor of public affairs at Washington University in his home city of St. Louis.

(Additional reporting by Vicki Allen)