Jamie Galbraith, the distinguished economist at Texas, was on McGovern's staff as a 19-year-old college student and wrote the following over the weekend about the 1972 campaign:
The 1972 run for the nomination was, in my view then and now, far and away the most brilliant political operation of my lifetime. We beat McCarthy, Lindsay, Bayh and Hughes in 1971. We beat Muskie in early 1972 and we beat Humphrey and Jackson in the spring and summer of 1972. They kept coming and we rolled them all.
And it was brilliant right up to the convention, which was a complex maneuver against crafty opposition (the California challenge, and my memory says also Illinois). The nomination was not secure until maybe two days before the convention opened!
Where McGovern lost control was in the VP selection, and it was not his fault, but that of Mass liberals who (right or wrong, but I was there and the view was not in doubt) rebelled against his initial choice of Kevin White, which led to disaster as Gaylord Nelson declined and then it fell to Eagleton by default, followed by another liberal rebellion supporting Sissy Farenthold on the floor, which is what killed the TV window for his acceptance speech. It's fair to say that very few of us really understood TV time at that moment. We were pretty raw.
There were also liberal media darlings on the floor -- people who were not raw at all but knew exactly what they were doing -- who took advantage of the air time they got to promote their pet causes, projecting an image to the public that the campaign could not control. What the campaign could control -- the behavior of the delegates on the floor, it did control, very well until the VP nomination debacle.
Very interesting stuff. Yes, he got crushed in the general, and yes, the McGovern campaign was in some respects excessive (e.g., the famous Mike Royko critique, which I found mostly persuasive). But how many of you can honestly say you think that second Nixon term was just a barnburner?
McGovern is one man liberals should always, always speak up for and defend.