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When former President of the United States Gerald Ford died in 2007, George McGovern, who was the Democratic nominee in the 1972 election, gave an interview to Larry King where he said this:

MCGOVERN: I have to tell you something I've never said before publicly. I voted for him in 1976.

KING: What?

MCGOVERN: When he -- yes, I did. And at Thanksgiving dinner that year, I never said anything about this to Eleanor or to her five children. But I told them at Thanksgiving time I had voted for President Ford, even though he lost. And I told them why, because I thought he had come in at a difficult time. I didn't know President Carter very well then. And I just felt more comfortable somehow with Gerry Ford. Whereupon my wife Eleanor said, so did I vote for him.

We went around that table -- this is hard to believe -- all five of my kids voted for him. So they get seven votes out of the McGovern family for President Ford and Senator Dole, my long-time Republican friend.

I voted for Carter again in 1980. So with my brand of political luck, I voted against Carter when he won, I voted for him when he lost. But I can justify both of those votes.

This is remarkable, considering that in 1972 George McGovern ran against Richard Nixon, whom Gerald Ford had served under as Vice President. (Though as @jwodder pointed out, it was Spiro T. Agnew, not Ford, who was Nixon's running mate in the 1972 election; Ford replaced Agnew as Vice President a year after Nixon was re-elected.)

But my question is, what were George McGovern's public pronouncements at the time? Did he publicly support Jimmy Carter in the 1976 election, and then just vote for Ford in the voting booth? Or did he just remain silent?

By the way, I got this tidbit from this Op-Ed by conservative writer Jim Geraghty.

EDIT: This bit of information from the 1972 Democratic Primary might explain McGovern's reticence to support Carter in 1976:

Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter helped to spearhead a "Stop McGovern" campaign.

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  • "in 1972 George McGovern ran against Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford" — Actually, he ran against Nixon and Spiro Agnew. – jwodder Aug 17 '16 at 2:12
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    How is anybody supposed to know what McGovern (or anyone) did actually vote? Vote is secret, the only way to guess if there were no votes for Carter recorded in that polling station. – SJuan76 Aug 17 '16 at 7:47
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    @SJan76 I'm not looking for how McGovern voted; he said he voted for Ford. I want to know what his public pronouncements were in 1976. Did he publicly support Jimmy Carter, or was he silent about who he supported? – Keshav Srinivasan Aug 17 '16 at 8:21
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    Ok, then I retire my objection. Maybe you want to edit your title to "Did George McGovern publicly support Carter?" to better focus it on what you want to know. – SJuan76 Aug 17 '16 at 17:21
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    Migrated on request of question author after not receiving an answer on politics.SE despite a 100 point bounty. – Philipp Sep 28 '16 at 14:03
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No, but nobody was asking him to either.

I haven't been able to dig up much about Carter endorsements in 1976, other than that there weren't many. There was a prominent "ABC" (Anybody But Carter) movement, chiefly driven by the fact that he was a moderate white southerner, and thus unlikely to be supported by the base during the general election. His performance in the primaries proved otherwise.

During the general election, support from popular Democrats is typically helpful as surrogates (its a big country, and the candidate can't be everywhere), but McGovern wasn't all that popular after losing so badly. Nobody was seeking out his support for anything.

As to why McGovern would feel like voting for Ford, one thing that strikes me reading though that interview transcript is this later part:

MCGOVERN: Could I also add one -- could I add one thing?

KING: Yes.

MCGOVERN: Larry, I supported the pardon for President Nixon. I suppose I was the person that suffered more from the cover-up of Watergate while I was running against Mr. Nixon than anyone else. But I supported that idea of a pardon even before President Ford granted it.

I called Barry Goldwater and asked him, at 6:00 one morning in the summer of '74, what would you think of you and I on a bipartisan basis calling for a pardon for President Nixon? He wasn't enthusiastic about it.

The pardon of Nixon was in fact the single biggest issue of the 1976 Campaign.* Its quite likely Ford lost the election over this issue.

If there had been a flat out referendum on the pardon, I think its fair to say McGovern would have voted for it. For many people the Presidential election of 1976 was in fact a referendum on just that, as Ford hadn't done much else of note, and it was the biggest issue. So being a supporter of the pardon himself, it isn't hard to see that McGovern would feel he had to vote for Ford just as a matter of political coherence. However, as a prominent Democrat, he couldn't say that publicly during the election, because then he'd become an issue.

So here's what he said publicly at the time of the pardon (Bangor Daily news 1974):

It is difficult to understand granting immunity to Mr. Nixon while committing his subordinates to prison. On the other hand, the Constitution clearly does give President Ford authority to grant reprieves and pardons.

This was taken as a criticism at the time, but was pretty mild considering what others were saying, and that he was in fact the aggrieved party. You could even argue that his criticism was that Ford hadn't pardoned more people.

* - This is the first election I remember well, and IMHO the linked Wikipedia page actually underplays how important it was.

  • You could even argue that his criticism was that Ford hadn't pardoned more people I seem to recall an OpEd in the Washington Star on that matter from that time, I was in high school, which I remember because there was so much noise being made about the pardon of Nixon ... my reaction was "what? Pardon more criminals?" I wasn't as well versed in how things worked then as I am now. – KorvinStarmast Sep 29 '16 at 20:19

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