Official portrait, 1977
|42nd Vice President of the United States|
January 20, 1977 - January 20, 1981
|George H. W. Bush|
|United States Senator|
December 30, 1964 - December 30, 1976
|24th United States Ambassador to Japan|
September 21, 1993 - December 15, 1996
|23rd Attorney General of Minnesota|
May 4, 1960 - December 30, 1964
January 5, 1928
Ceylon, Minnesota, U.S.
(m. 1955; died 2014)
|Children||3, including Ted, Eleanor|
University of Minnesota (BA, JD)
|Branch/service||United States Army|
|Years of service||1951-1953|
Walter Frederick "Fritz" Mondale (born January 5, 1928) is an American politician, diplomat and lawyer who served as the 42nd vice president of the United States from 1977 to 1981. A United States senator from Minnesota (1964-1976), he was the Democratic Party's nominee in the 1984 United States presidential election, but lost to incumbent Ronald Reagan in an Electoral College and popular vote landslide. Reagan won 49 states while Mondale carried his home state of Minnesota and the District of Columbia. In October 2002, Mondale became the last-minute choice of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party to run for Senate after the death of Senator Paul Wellstone, but was defeated by Saint Paul Mayor Norm Coleman. Mondale became the oldest living former U.S. vice president after the death of George H. W. Bush in 2018.
Mondale was born in Ceylon, Minnesota, and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1951 after attending Macalester College. He then served in the United States Army during the Korean War before earning a law degree in 1956. He married Joan Adams in 1955. Working as a lawyer in Minneapolis, Mondale was appointed Minnesota Attorney General in 1960 by Governor Orville Freeman and was elected to a full term as attorney general in 1962 with 60% of the vote. He was appointed to the U.S. Senate by Governor Karl Rolvaag upon the resignation of Senator Hubert Humphrey following Humphrey's election as vice president in 1964. Mondale was elected to a full Senate term in 1966 and reelected in 1972, resigning in 1976 as he prepared to succeed to the vice presidency in 1977. While in the Senate, he supported consumer protection, fair housing, tax reform, and the desegregation of schools. Importantly, he served as a member of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities ("Church Committee").
In 1976, Jimmy Carter, the Democratic presidential nominee, chose Mondale as his vice-presidential running mate. The Carter-Mondale ticket defeated incumbent president Gerald Ford and his vice presidential running mate, Bob Dole. Carter and Mondale's time in office was marred by a worsening economy and they lost the 1980 election to Republicans Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. In 1984, Mondale won the Democratic presidential nomination and campaigned for a nuclear freeze, the Equal Rights Amendment, an increase in taxes, and a reduction of U.S. public debt. His vice presidential nominee was Geraldine Ferraro, a Congresswoman from New York, the first female vice-presidential nominee of any major party. Mondale and Ferraro lost the election to the incumbents Reagan and Bush.
After his defeat, Mondale joined the Minnesota-based law firm Dorsey & Whitney and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (1986-93). President Bill Clinton appointed Mondale United States Ambassador to Japan in 1993; he retired in 1996. In 2002, Mondale ran for his old Senate seat, agreeing to be the last-minute replacement for Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone, who died in a plane crash less than two weeks before the election. Mondale narrowly lost the race to Saint Paul mayor Norm Coleman. He then returned to working at Dorsey & Whitney and remained active in the Democratic Party. Mondale later took up a part-time teaching position at the University of Minnesota's Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
Mondale was born in Ceylon, Minnesota, to Theodore Sigvaard Mondale, a Methodist minister, and Claribel Hope (née Cowan), a part-time music teacher. Walter's half-brother Lester Mondale became a Unitarian minister. Mondale also has two brothers, Clarence, known as Pete (1926-2014), and William, known as Mort. His paternal grandparents were Norwegian immigrants, and his mother, the daughter of an immigrant from Ontario, was of Scottish and English descent. The surname "Mondale" comes from Mundal, a valley and town in the Fjærland region of Norway.
Mondale attended public schools and then Macalester College for two years before transferring to the University of Minnesota, from which he graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science in 1951. As Mondale did not have enough money to attend law school, he enlisted in the United States Army in 1951, shortly after graduating. He served at Fort Knox during the Korean War, first as an armored reconnaissance vehicle crewman, and later as an education programs specialist. He attained the rank of corporal and was discharged in 1953. Mondale enrolled at the University of Minnesota Law School, aided by the G.I. Bill, and graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Laws in 1956. In law school, he served on the Minnesota Law Review and as a law clerk for Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Thomas F. Gallagher. In 1955, Mondale married Joan Adams, whom he met on a blind date. He then practiced law in Minneapolis for four years before entering politics.
Mondale became involved in national politics in the 1940s. At age 20, he was visible in Minnesota politics by helping organize Hubert Humphrey's successful Senate campaign in 1948. Humphrey's campaign assigned Mondale to cover the staunchly Republican 2nd district. Mondale, who had grown up in the region, was able to win the district for Humphrey by a comfortable margin.
After working with Humphrey, Mondale went on to work on several campaigns for Orville Freeman. Mondale worked on Freeman's unsuccessful 1952 campaign for governor as well as his successful campaign in 1954 and his 1958 reelection campaign.:14
In 1960, Freeman appointed Mondale Minnesota Attorney General following the resignation of Miles Lord. At the time he was appointed, Mondale was 32 years old and had been practicing law for four years. He was elected to the post in his own right in 1962.
During his tenure as Minnesota Attorney General, the case Gideon v. Wainwright (which ultimately established the right of defendants in state courts to have a lawyer) was being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. When those opposed to the right to counsel organized a Friend of the Court brief representing several state attorneys general for that position, Mondale organized a countering Friend of the Court brief from many more state attorneys general, arguing that defendants must be allowed a lawyer. He also continued the investigation of former Minneapolis mayor Marvin L. Kline and the mismanagement of the Sister Kenny Foundation.
At the 1964 Democratic National Convention, Mondale played a major role in the proposed but ultimately unsuccessful compromise by which the national Democratic Party offered the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party two at-large seats.
Mondale also served as a member of the President's Consumer Advisory Council from 1960 to 1964.
This article is missing information about Mondale's stance on tax reform, school desegregation, as stated in the introduction.March 2011)(
On December 30, 1964, Minnesota Governor Karl Rolvaag appointed Mondale to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by Hubert Humphrey's resignation after being elected Vice President of the United States. Mondale was elected to the Senate for the first time in 1966, defeating Republican candidate Robert A. Forsythe, 53.9% to 45.2%.
In 1972, Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern offered Mondale an opportunity to be his vice-presidential running mate, which he declined. That year, Mondale was reelected to the Senate with over 57% of the vote, even as President Nixon carried Minnesota. He served in the 88th, 89th, 90th, 91st, 92nd, 93rd, and 94th congresses.
Mondale worked hard to build up the center of the party on economic and social issues. Unlike his father, a fervent liberal, he was not a crusader for the New Deal. Instead he realized the Democratic base (especially ethnic blue-collar workers) was gradually moving to the right and he worked to keep their support. Mondale showed little or no interest in foreign policy until about 1974, when he realized that some knowledge was necessary if he had loftier aspirations than the Senate. He developed a centrist position, avoiding alignment with either the party's hawks (such as Henry M. Jackson) or its doves (such as McGovern). He took a liberal position on civil rights, which proved acceptable in Minnesota, a state with "a minuscule black population". Mondale was a chief sponsor of the federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in housing and created HUD's Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity as the primary enforcer of the law.
During Johnson's presidency, Mondale supported the Vietnam War, but after Nixon became president in 1969, he began to oppose it and participated in legislation to restrict Nixon's ability to prolong it. Mondale supports abortion rights.
Mondale rotated on and off numerous committees, including the Aeronautical and Space Sciences Committee; the Finance Committee; the Labor and Public Welfare Committee; the Budget Committee; and the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee. He also served as chairman of the Select Committee on Equal Education Opportunity and the Intelligence Committee's Domestic Task Force. He additionally served as chairman of the Labor and Public Welfare Committee's subcommittee on Children and Youth and the Senate subcommittee on social security financing.
In 1967, Mondale served on the Aeronautical and Space Sciences Committee, then chaired by Clinton P. Anderson, when astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee were killed in a fire on January 27 while testing the Apollo 204 (later renumbered Apollo 1) spacecraft. NASA Administrator James E. Webb secured President Lyndon Johnson's approval for NASA to internally investigate the cause of the accident according to its established procedures, subject to Congressional oversight. NASA's procedure called for Deputy Administrator (and de facto general manager) Robert C. Seamans to appoint and oversee an investigative panel.
In February, a reporter leaked to Mondale the existence of an internal NASA report issued in 1965 by Apollo program director Samuel C. Phillips, detailing management, cost, delivery, and quality problems of the Apollo prime contractor North American Aviation. In the February 27 hearing, Mondale asked Webb if he knew of such a report. Webb had not yet seen the December 1965 written report, so he responded in the negative. Seamans had passed along to Webb neither the written report nor the briefing presentation made to him in January 1966 by Phillips and Phillips's boss, Manned Space Flight Administrator George Mueller.
Both Seamans and Mueller had also been called to testify at this session. Mueller denied the report's existence, though he must have been aware of it, as he had appended his own strongly worded letter to the copy sent to North American president Lee Atwood.
Seamans was afraid Mondale might be in possession of a copy (he was not), so he admitted that NASA often reviewed its contractors' performance, with both positive and negative results, but claimed that was nothing extraordinary. Under repeated questioning from Mondale, Webb promised that he would investigate whether the "Phillips Report" existed, and if so, whether a controlled release could be made to Congress. Immediately after the hearing, Webb saw the Phillips report for the first time.
The controversy spread to both houses of Congress and grew (through the efforts of three of Mondale's fellow committee members, Republicans Margaret Chase Smith, Edward Brooke and Charles H. Percy) to include the second-guessing of NASA's original selection in 1961 of North American as the prime Apollo spacecraft contractor, which Webb became forced to defend. The House NASA oversight committee, which was conducting its own hearings and had picked up on the controversy, was ultimately given a copy of the Phillips report.
While the Committee, as a whole, believed that NASA should have informed Congress of the Phillips review results in 1966, its final report issued on January 30, 1968, concluded (as had NASA's own accident investigation completed on April 5, 1967), that "the findings of the [Phillips] task force had no effect on the accident, did not lead to the accident, and were not related to the accident". Yet Mondale wrote a minority opinion accusing NASA of "evasiveness,... lack of candor, ... patronizing attitude exhibited toward Congress, ... refusal to respond fully and forthrightly to legitimate congressional inquiries, and ... solicitous concern for corporate sensitivities at a time of national tragedy".
Mondale explained his actions in a 2001 interview: "I think that by forcing a public confrontation about these heretofore secret and deep concerns about the safety and the management of the program, it forced NASA to restructure and reorganize the program in a way that was much safer." (In the 1998 miniseries From the Earth to the Moon, Mondale is portrayed (by John Slattery) as being entirely against the space program and wanting to shut it down following the disaster, but after moving testimony by astronaut Frank Borman (David Andrews), Mondale acquiesces.)
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (March 2011)
In 1975, Mondale served on the Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, chaired by Idaho Senator Frank Church, that investigated alleged abuses by the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Documents declassified in 2017 show that the National Security Agency had created a file on Mondale as part of its monitoring of prominent US citizens whose names appeared in Signals intelligence.
When Jimmy Carter won the Democratic nomination for president in 1976, he chose Mondale as his running mate. The ticket was narrowly elected on November 2, 1976, and Mondale was inaugurated as Vice President of the United States on January 20, 1977. He became the fourth vice president in four years, after Spiro Agnew (1969-73), Gerald Ford (1973-74), and Nelson Rockefeller (1974-77).
Under Carter, Mondale traveled extensively throughout the nation and the world advocating the administration's foreign policy. His travels also included a visit to the USS Midway , which was on station at the time in the Indian Ocean, during the Iran hostage crisis. Mondale was the first vice president to have an office in the White House and established the concept of an "activist Vice President." He began the tradition of weekly lunches with the president, which continues to this day. More importantly, he expanded the vice president's role from figurehead to presidential advisor, full-time participant, and troubleshooter for the administration. Subsequent vice presidents followed this model. In 1979, Twin Cities Public Television produced a documentary about his trip to Norway, titled Walter Mondale: There's a Fjord in Your Past, a play on the well-known advertising slogan "There's a Ford in Your Future".
Mondale cast one tie-breaking vote in the Senate on November 4, 1977.
Carter and Mondale were renominated at the 1980 Democratic National Convention, but soundly lost to the Republican ticket of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. That year, Mondale opened the XIII Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid, New York.
Carter and Mondale are the longest-living post-presidential team in American history. On May 23, 2006, they had been out of office for 9,254 days (25 years, 4 months and 3 days), surpassing the former record established by President John Adams and Vice President Thomas Jefferson, both of whom died on July 4, 1826. On September 8, 2012, Carter surpassed Herbert Hoover as the president with the longest retirement from office. On April 23, 2014, Mondale surpassed Richard Nixon as the vice president with the longest retirement from office at 12,146 days (33 years, 3 months and 3 days). With George H. W. Bush's death on November 30, 2018, Mondale became the oldest living U.S vice president and Carter the oldest living U.S. president.
After losing the 1980 election, Mondale returned briefly to the practice of law at Winston and Strawn, a large Chicago-based law firm, but he intended to return to politics before long.
Mondale ran for the Democratic Party presidential nomination in the 1984 election, and was soon the front-runner. His opposition included Reverend Jesse Jackson and Senator Gary Hart from Colorado. Hart won the New Hampshire primary in March, but Mondale had much of the party leadership behind him. To great effect, Mondale used the Wendy's slogan "Where's the beef?" to describe Hart's policies as lacking depth. Jackson, widely regarded as the first serious African-American candidate for president, held on longer, but Mondale gained the nomination with the majority of delegates on the first ballot.
At the Democratic Convention, Mondale chose U.S. Representative Geraldine Ferraro from New York as his running mate, making her the first woman nominated for that position by a major party. Aides later said that Mondale was determined to make a historic choice with his vice presidential candidate, having considered San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein (female and Jewish); Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, an African American; and San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros, a Mexican American, as finalists. Others preferred Senator Lloyd Bentsen because he would appeal to the Deep South, or even nomination rival Gary Hart. Ferraro, as a Catholic, was criticized by some Catholic Church leaders for being pro-choice. Much more controversy erupted over her changing positions about the release of her husband's tax returns, and her own ethics record in the House. Ferraro was on the defensive throughout much of the campaign, largely negating her breakthrough as the first woman on a major national ticket. She was also the first Italian American to reach that level in American politics.
When Mondale made his acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention, he said: "By the end of my first term, I will reduce the Reagan budget deficit by two-thirds. Let's tell the truth. It must be done, it must be done. Mr. Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I. He won't tell you. I just did." While this was meant to show that Mondale would be honest with voters, it was instead largely interpreted as a campaign pledge to raise taxes to spend on domestic programs, which was unappealing to many voters.
Mondale ran a liberal campaign, supporting a nuclear freeze and the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). He spoke against Reagan's economic policies and in support of reducing federal budget deficits. But the incumbent was popular and his campaign was widely considered ineffective. Mondale was also perceived as supporting the poor at the expense of the middle class. Southern whites and northern blue-collar workers who usually voted Democratic supported Reagan because they credited him with the economic boom and saw him as strong on national security.
In the first televised debate, Mondale performed unexpectedly well, which led many to question Reagan's age and capacity to endure the grueling demands of the presidency (Reagan was the oldest person to serve as president--73 at the time--while Mondale was 56). In the next debate on October 21, 1984, Reagan deflected the issue by quipping, "I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience."
Mondale was defeated in a landslide, receiving 37,577,352 votes (40.6% of the popular vote), and winning only the District of Columbia and his home state of Minnesota (even there his margin of victory was fewer than 3,800 votes), securing only 13 electoral votes to Reagan's 525. The result was the worst electoral college defeat for any Democratic Party candidate in history, and the worst for any major-party candidate since Alf Landon's loss to Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936.
Mondale returned to private law practice with Dorsey & Whitney in Minneapolis in 1987. From 1986 to 1993, he chaired the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. During Bill Clinton's presidency, he was United States Ambassador to Japan from 1993 to 1996, chaired a bipartisan group to study campaign finance reform, and was Clinton's special envoy to Indonesia in 1998.
Until his appointment as Ambassador to Japan, Mondale was a Distinguished University Fellow in Law and Public Affairs at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. In 1990, he established the Mondale Policy Forum at the Humphrey Institute. The forum has brought together leading scholars and policymakers for annual conferences on domestic and international issues. He also served on nonprofit boards of directors for the Guthrie Theater Foundation, the Mayo Foundation, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the Diogenes Institute of Higher Learning, the Prince Hall Masonic Temple, the RAND Corporation, and the University of Minnesota Foundation. His corporate board memberships included BlackRock Advantage Term Trust and other BlackRock Mutual Funds, Cargill Incorporated, CNA Financial, the Encyclopædia Britannica, First Financial Fund, and other Prudential Mutual Funds, Northwest Airlines, and United HealthCare Corporation.
Mondale spoke before the Senate on September 4, 2002, delivering a lecture on his service, with commentary on the transformation of the office of the Vice President during the Carter administration, the Senate cloture rule for ending debate, and his view of the future of the Senate. The lecture was a part of a continuing Senate "Leaders Lecture Series" that ran from 1998 to 2002.
In 2002, Democratic Senator Paul Wellstone from Minnesota, who was running for reelection, died in a plane crash 11 days before the November 5 election. Mondale replaced Wellstone on the ballot at the urging of Wellstone's relatives. The Senate seat was the one Mondale had held before resigning to become Vice President in 1977.
During his debate with the Republican nominee, former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman, Mondale emphasized his experience in foreign affairs while painting Coleman as a finger-in-the-wind opportunist. "We have seen you shift around, Norman", Mondale said, alluding to Coleman's past as an antiwar college activist and, more recently, as a Democrat who had changed his party allegiance to the GOP while serving as mayor of St. Paul.
Mondale lost the election, receiving 1,067,246 votes (47.34%) to Coleman's 1,116,697 (49.53%), earning him the unique distinction of having lost a statewide general election in all 50 states as the nominee of a major party (he lost the other 49 in the 1984 presidential election; George McGovern also lost statewide elections in all 50 states, 49 of them as a major party nominee in the 1972 presidential election, but the only statewide election he lost in Massachusetts was the primary in 1984). Upon conceding defeat, Mondale said, "At the end of what will be my last campaign, I want to say to Minnesota, you always treated me well, you always listened to me."
In 2004, Mondale became co-chairman of the Constitution Project's bipartisan Right to Counsel Committee. He endorsed Senator Hillary Clinton for president in 2008. On June 3, 2008, following the final primary contests, Mondale endorsed Senator Barack Obama, who had clinched the nomination the previous evening, and won the presidency.
Following the presidential election of 2004 and the midterm elections of 2006, Mondale is seen talking with Al Franken about the possibility of the latter running against Coleman for Senate in 2008 in the documentary Al Franken: God Spoke. In the film, Mondale encourages Franken to run, but cautions him, saying that Coleman's allies and the Republican Party would look for anything they could use against him. Franken ultimately ran and won the 2008 Senate election by 312 votes, with Coleman contesting the election results until June 30, 2009. Mondale and Senator Amy Klobuchar stood with Franken in the United States Senate chamber when Franken was sworn in on July 7, 2009.
His wife, Joan Mondale, was a national advocate for the arts and was the Honorary Chairman of the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities during the Carter Administration. On February 3, 2014, she died at a hospice in Minneapolis surrounded by members of their family.
The Mondales' eldest son Ted is an entrepreneur and the CEO of Nazca Solutions, a technology fulfillment venture. He is also a former Minnesota state senator. In 1998, Ted Mondale unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for Minnesota governor, running as a fiscal moderate who had distanced himself from labor.
The Mondales' daughter, Eleanor, was a television personality. She also had radio talk shows in Chicago and a long-running program on WCCO (AM) in Minneapolis. She died of brain cancer at her home in Minnesota on September 17, 2011, at age 51.
Their younger son is William Hall Mondale, former assistant Attorney General of Minnesota (1990-2000).
Mondale has a residence near Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis. He is a Presbyterian. He enjoys fishing, reading Shakespeare and historical accounts, barbecuing, skiing, watching Monty Python, and playing tennis.
Mondale has maintained strong ties to the University of Minnesota Law School. In 2002 the school renamed its building Walter F. Mondale Hall. Mondale has contributed cameo appearances to the law school's annual T.O.R.T. ("Theater of the Relatively Talentless") productions and has allowed his name to be used as the nickname of the school's hockey team: the "Fighting Mondales".
Mondale has deep connections to his ancestral Norway. Upon entering the Senate in 1964, he took over the seat of vice president Hubert Humphrey, another Norwegian-American. In later years, Mondale served on the executive committee of the Peace Prize Forum, an annual conference co-sponsored by the Norwegian Nobel Institute and five Midwestern colleges of Norwegian heritage. During Norway's Centennial Celebration in 2005, he chaired the committee to promote and develop cultural activities between Norway and Norwegian-American organizations.
In 2015, Mondale, who lost both his wife and daughter to brain diseases, was awarded the Public Leadership in Neurology Award from the American Academy of Neurology for raising awareness for brain health.
In the "Walter F. Mondale Papers" at the Minnesota Historical Society, digital content is available for research use. Contents include speech files, handwritten notes, memoranda, annotated briefings, schedules, correspondence, and visual materials. The collection includes senatorial, vice presidential, ambassadorial, political papers and campaign files, and personal papers documenting most aspects of Mondale's 60-year-long career, including all of his public offices, campaigns, and Democratic Party and other non-official activities.
The University of Minnesota Law Library's Walter F. Mondale website is devoted to Mondale's senatorial career. Mondale's work is documented in full text access to selected proceedings and debates on the floor of the Senate as recorded in the Congressional Record.
Six colleagues--from Ted Kennedy to Walter Mondale--turned him down for reasons ranging from "My mother just couldn't take it" (Kennedy, referring to Rose Kennedy's grief following the assassinations of her sons John and Robert) to "I'm getting married tomorrow, and I don't know if my marriage will survive a presidential campaign" (Abe Ribicoff).
| Attorney General of Minnesota
| U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Minnesota
Served alongside: Eugene McCarthy, Hubert Humphrey
|Party political offices|
| Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Minnesota
| Democratic nominee for Vice President of the United States
| Democratic nominee for President of the United States
| Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Minnesota
| Vice President of the United States
George H. W. Bush
| United States Ambassador to Japan
George H. W. Bush
| Oldest living Vice President of the United States
|U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)|
as Former President
| United States order of precedence
as Former Vice President
as Former Vice President