In death, long after loss, Mondale's liberal legacy stands

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2007 AP

FILE - In this Wednesday, Sept. 5, 1984, file photo, Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale and his running mate, Geraldine Ferraro, wave as they leave an afternoon rally in Portland, Ore. Mondale, a liberal icon who lost the most lopsided presidential election after bluntly telling voters to expect a tax increase if he won, died Monday, April 19, 2021. He was 93. (AP Photo/Jack Smith, File)

MINNEAPOLIS – In the last days of his life, former Vice President Walter Mondale received a steady stream of phone calls of appreciation. Former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris all called to say goodbye and thank you.

It was a sign of respect for a man many Americans remember largely for his near-shutout defeat for the White House in 1984. But well after his bruising loss, Mondale remained a revered liberal elder — with a list of accomplishments that are still relevant today.

As a young senator, he co-wrote the Fair Housing Act of 1968, a pillar of federal civil rights legislation. He later engineered a 1975 bipartisan deal that ended the two-thirds rule for stopping filibusters, so that 60 senators instead of 67 could cut off debate.

Under President Jimmy Carter, he became the first vice president with a day job, as adviser to the president, not just a bystander. He called it the “executivization” of the vice presidency.

And as a Democratic presidential nominee, he chose the first female nominee for vice president from a major party.

Harris, who won the job 36 years later, specifically thanked him for all he did to change the office, according to a person familiar with the calls who asked for anonymity to discuss the private conversations.

Mondale, 93, died Monday at his home in Minneapolis, as the city awaits a verdict in a murder trial that has forced the nation to again wrestle with structural racism. He welcomed that debate, his family said in a statement: “We are grateful that he had the opportunity to see the emergence of another generation of civil rights reckoning in the past months."

Mondale was appointed senator from Minnesota to succeed his political mentor, Hubert H. Humphrey, who resigned to become vice president. He won Senate elections in 1966 and 1972, and stepped down to become vice president in 1977. Carter lost to Ronald Reagan in 1980 and Mondale went into private law practice — while beginning his own campaign for the presidency. He won the nomination in 1984, chose Rep. Geraldine Ferraro of New York as his running mate, and was crushed in the landslide that reelected Reagan, carrying only Minnesota and the District of Columbia.