Politics

Walter Huddleston, Kentucky Senator Who Preceded Mitch McConnell, Dead at 92

Democrat lost to current majority leader in 1984

Former Sen. Walter D. Huddleston, seen here in 1983, died on Tuesday. (CQ Roll Call file photo)

Walter D. Huddleston, a two-term Democratic senator from Kentucky, died Tuesday at 92.

Huddleston was upset in his 1984 re-election bid to a young Republican county-judge executive named Mitch McConnell.

Rep. John Yarmuth, the only Democrat currently serving in the Kentucky congressional delegation, praised Huddleston.

“Dee Huddleston was a kindhearted and thoughtful man. Though he was a spirited politician, he never quite enjoyed the combative side of politics. His interests remained in serving the people of Kentucky to the very best of his ability,” Yarmuth said. “When he was first elected to the Senate in 1973, I was working as a staffer for Senator Cook, and I had the distinct joy of getting to know him and his staff well as we developed a great working relationship and friendship inside the Capitol and out.”

Back then, Yarmuth was a Republican. Yarmuth said that he and Huddleston would “compare notes” after he made the decision to switch to the Democratic party.

Huddleston was a senior member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, as well as the Appropriations and Intelligence Committees. Huddleston’s key legislative priorities included advocacy for home-state businesses, including coal and tobacco, according to CQ’s Politics in America.

Huddleston worked to thwart a 1979 legislative effort to require labeling on distilled spirits about the risks posed by excessive drinking. Bourbon is another key Kentucky industry.

But it’s the 1984 campaign that has had among the longest-lasting effects. Huddleston lost to McConnell in the Reagan Republican wave election in which the young McConnell ran what have become legendary TV ads.

The ad campaign featured a pack of bloodhounds searching for Huddleston, as a way to criticize his attendance record in the Senate and some of his vacations. McConnell reprised the ad as part of the closing argument for his last re-election campaign.

“When we each had the opportunity to share our visions for Kentucky’s future in 1984, I experienced Dee’s tenacity, competitiveness, and skill firsthand,” McConnell said in a statement Tuesday. “He was a tough competitor, and I always respected him for his service to our home state.”

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