October 23, 2012

I was a 21-year-old United Press (UP) correspondent assigned to South Dakota in 1955 when I first covered George McGovern. That coverage eventually stretched over several decades.

People were talking about Mr. McGovern when I arrived. I had not heard of him, but he was described as an impressive young debate coach at Dakota Wesleyan University who had resigned to become executive secretary of the South Dakota Democratic Party. Shortly afterward, he began a run for the U.S. House.

When I covered Mr. McGovern in person for the first time, I had never heard any politician speak so clearly and articulately about liberal beliefs, and he said all in a gentle tone.

At that time, the UP bureau in Sioux Falls was on the fourth floor of the rickety Syndicate Building. I had to come in at 7 a.m. — the elevators didn’t start running until 8 a.m. — to file the weather forecasts, which were utterly essential for South Dakota’s farmers and ranchers. Frequently, before 8, Mr. McGovern would walk up those same four floors to give me a handout that I suspected he had written — and typed — himself. Then off he would go to visit sales barns, service clubs and cafes scattered throughout the towns of eastern South Dakota.

In his 1956 campaign, he defeated Rep. Harold Lovre, then a senior member of the South Dakota congressional delegation. Two years later, he was reelected, defeating former South Dakota governor Joe Foss, the immensely popular World War II flying ace. You know the rest of the story.

Wes Pippert, Arlington