WASHINGTON, March 26 -- Former Sen. Edmund S. Muskie, who made a failed bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972 and went on to become secretary of state in the Carter administration, died early Tuesday. He was 81. The longtime public servant had entered Georgetown University Medical Center March 18 for successful surgery on a blood vessel in the right leg. He suffered from chronic vascular disease. Muskie, while recovering in the hospital, suffered a heart attack last Thursday and underwent triple-bypass surgery. He had been in critical condition since, and died at 4:06 a.m., hospital spokeswoman Lauren Shaham said. President Clinton mourned the death of Muskie, who served as governor of Maine in the 1950s and was a senator for 21 years. 'Hillary and I were deeply saddened to learn of the death of former Senator Edmund Muskie,' Clinton said in a written statement. 'A dedicated legislator and caring public servant, Senator Muskie was a leader in the best sense. He spoke from the heart and acted with conviction. Generations to come will benefit from his steadfast commitment to protecting the land. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, his friends and the people of Maine at this difficult time.' Muskie's former colleague, Senate GOP leader Bob Dole, remembered Muskie as 'a patriot' and a fiscally conservative no-nonsense Democrat who bucked Maine's propensity to elect Republicans. 'The best is just what the people of Maine and America received from Ed Muskie,' said Dole, the lead contender for the Republican presidential nomination.
Edmund Sixtus Muskie reached the height of his political power in 1968 near the end of his campaign for vice president of the United States. But the next-highest office in the land was not for Muskie, and after losing a bid for the presidential nomination in 1972, he said he would be happy in the U.S. Senate and remained there until President Carter appointed him secretary of state in 1980 to succeed Cyrus Vance. After leaving public life, Muskie became a partner in the Washington law firm Chadbourne & Parke. Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota, the Democratic presidential nominee in 1968, tapped Muskie as his running mate against the Republican ticket of Richard M. Nixon and Spiro T. Agnew. Muskie -- a Democrat winner in his races for governor and senator in rock-ribbed Republican Maine -- added luster to the ticket, which nearly defeated the Nixon-Agnew tandem. There was a time during the campaign -- near the end -- when some highly placed members of the Democratic Party said they wished that Muskie, the most popular of the four men on the two tickets, had been at the top of the ballot instead of Humphrey. Although the 6-foot-6 Muskie was held in much higher regard than his rival Agnew, he used a soft-sell touch in his campaign that damaged his chances of getting the top spot at the 1972 Democratic convention. Then, too, Muskie was the victim of 'dirty tricks' by Nixon's re- election campaign operatives. Muskie's popularity was bruised by the so-called 'Canuck letter,' which was published by the Manchester (N.H.) Union Leader. The letter, purportedly signed by Muskie, used a slangy slur word, 'Canuck,' for Canadian. In 1974, the Senate Watergate Committee branded the letter a hoax after an investigation. The Union-Leader once called the senator 'Moscow Muskie' because of a trip he took to the Soviet Union. It also was critical of Muskie's wife, Jane. When Muskie stood in front of the newspaper and denounced the publisher, William Loeb, reporters at the scene said they saw tears rolling down Muskie's cheeks. But others said the water running down his face was melting snow. Muskie lost the New Hampshire primary and later quit the presidential race. Muskie was born March 28, 1914, in Rumford, Maine. His father, Stephen, was born in Poland, but moved to Rumford and opened a tailor shop. After graduating as valedictorian from Rumford High School, Muskie got his bachelor's degree at Bates College in 1934 and his law degree from Cornell Law School in 1939. He was 26 when he opened his law practice in Waterville, Maine, in 1940. Muskie served in the Navy during World War II and won three battle stars. In 1947 he won a seat in the Maine Legislature and in 1954 was elected Maine's first Democratic governor in 20 years. In 1958, Muskie defeated incumbent Frederick G. Payne in the race for U.S. senator and was re-elected in 1964, 1970 and 1976. After losing his bid for the presidential nomination in 1972, Muskie said he liked the Senate and would stay there as long as Maine voters wanted him. In 1980 Vance resigned as secretary of state because he opposed Carter's failed mission to rescue 53 hostages held by Iranian militants in the U.S. Embassy. In a surprise move, Carter selected Muskie to direct his foreign policy. Muskie married Jane Frances Gray on May 29, 1948. They had five children -- Stephen, Ellen, Melinda, Martha and Edmund Jr.