Dick Clark, Iowan Who Walked 1,300 Miles for a Senate Seat, Dies at 95

Dick Clark, a long-shot Senate candidate who won his race with a 1,300-mile trek around Iowa, then used his single term on Capitol Hill to push United States foreign policy to the left in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, died on Wednesday at his home in Washington. He was 95.

His daughter, Julie Clark Mendoza, announced the death.

Mr. Clark was a congressional aide to John Culver, who was gearing up to run against the popular Republican incumbent, Jack Miller, in the 1972 Senate race. Mr. Clark was an expert in grass-roots organizing, and he spent months traveling the state, laying the groundwork for his boss.

When Mr. Culver decided that the odds against him were too great, Mr. Clark announced that he would run instead. The odds he faced were equally great, if not steeper: One poll, taken in May 1972, showed him with just 20 percent of the vote.

Mr. Clark decided to take a walk. Mr. Miller had won each of Iowa’s 99 counties in 1966, despite having a reputation for being out of touch and awkward. Mr. Clark set out to visit as many of those counties as he could, on foot.

Hitting the open road was something of a cultural theme during the early 1970s, and Mr. Clark’s trek quickly drew attention. Newspapers and television stations tracked his progress, and farmers, townspeople and city dwellers turned out to see him as he passed by, stopping to shake hands and give impromptu speeches. Some would even join him for a mile or two.

“On the road, I didn’t present myself as a liberal,” he told The New York Times in 1973. “I simply introduced myself to people one by one, and asked them what was on their minds.”

Over the months leading up to the November election, Mr. Clark logged some 1,300 miles. His plan worked: He trounced Mr. Miller, 55 percent to 45 percent, in a year when President Richard M. Nixon, running for re-election, easily carried the state.

Mr. Clark made the most of his single six-year term, from 1973 to 1979. One of the Senate’s most liberal members, he was among the leading figures in Capitol Hill’s left turn on foreign policy in the mid-1970s. He supported human rights, Vietnamese refugees and the 1977 Panama Canal Treaty, which set in motion America’s return of the canal to Panamanian possession.

In 1974 he joined the Foreign Relations Committee and assumed the chairmanship of its subcommittee on African affairs. Many of his predecessors had considered the role a hardship post and moved on quickly; Mr. Clark made Africa the focus of the rest of his term.

He traveled frequently to the continent, visiting newly independent countries like Mozambique and Angola.

He was sitting on a commercial plane preparing to take off from Kinshasa, the capital of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), when armed men stormed aboard and removed him.

They whisked him to an unscheduled meeting with Mobutu Sese Seko, the country’s dictator. The two men spoke briefly, and Mr. Clark then said he was going to miss his flight.

“The flight will not depart,” he recalled Mr. Mobutu saying, “until I tell it to.”

In South Africa in 1976, Mr. Clark spent two hours meeting with Black students in Soweto, a poor Johannesburg suburb where nonwhites were relegated under apartheid. He also met with the Black journalist and activist Steve Biko, less than a year before police officers beat him to death in custody.

Back in Washington, Mr. Clark pushed for more foreign aid to sub-Saharan Africa. He also wrote the Clark Amendment, which cut off American funding for private military groups involved in the Angolan civil war, a Cold War proxy conflict in which the United States and South Africa supported forces opposed to the country’s Soviet-backed government.

For his re-election bid, in 1978, Mr. Clark once more took to the highways and byways of Iowa, but this time it wasn’t enough. In a year that saw several liberal senators fall, he narrowly lost to the Republican candidate, Roger Jepsen, a former lieutenant governor.

The driving issue in the race was abortion, which was reshuffling American politics in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. Mr. Clark supported federal funds for abortion access, and Iowa anti-abortion activists made defeating him their No. 1 priority during the 1978 midterms.

But there was another factor at play. Through a secret slush fund, the South African government was funneling money into a global propaganda campaign meant to undermine its critics — including $250,000 to support Mr. Jepsen.

Mr. Jepsen derided Mr. Clark as “the senator from Africa” during the campaign. But he denied knowing about the South African money, which was revealed in 1979 by Eschel Roodie, South Africa’s former chief propagandist.

After his loss, Mr. Clark served briefly as President Jimmy Carter’s ambassador for refugee affairs. He then worked on Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s 1980 presidential campaign and later joined the Aspen Institute, where he served as a senior fellow.

Richard Clarence Clark was born on Sept. 14, 1928, on a farm in Paris, Iowa, an unincorporated community about 20 miles north of Cedar Rapids, in the eastern part of the state. His parents, Clarence and Bernice (Anderson) Clark, owned a grocery store in nearby Lamont, where the family moved when Dick was young.

Dick served in the Army in Europe from 1950 to 1952, during which time he took college extension courses. He received a bachelor’s degree from Upper Iowa University in 1953 and a master’s degree in history from the University of Iowa in 1956.

His first marriage, to Jean Gross, ended in divorce. He married Julie Kennett in 1977. In addition to his daughter, his wife survives him, as do his son, Thomas; his stepson, Robert Kennett Marshall; three grandchildren; and two great-grandsons.

Mr. Clark taught at both his alma maters before joining Mr. Culver’s office in 1965.

Perhaps inspired by Mr. Clark’s success, Mr. Culver successfully ran for Iowa’s other Senate seat in 1974, joining his former aide — who now, as Iowa’s senior senator, outranked him.

Mr. Culver also served just one term. He lost in 1980 to Charles E. Grassley, who still holds that seat today.


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