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Pete McCloskey, Republican Who Tried to Unseat Nixon, Is Dead at 96

Pete McCloskey, a California congressman who raised a flag of rebellion against President Richard M. Nixon’s war policies in Vietnam with a spirited but futile race for the Republican presidential nomination in 1972, died on Wednesday at his home in Winters, Calif., west of Sacramento. He was 96.

His death was announced in a statement released on Wednesday by a family spokesman, Lee Houskeeper.

Mr. McCloskey, who represented an area south of San Francisco for 15 years, from late 1967 to early 1983, was a liberal Republican who admired President John F. Kennedy, voted for environmental causes with Democrats and believed that the Republican Party had veered too far to the right.

In July 1971, with the nation divided over the war and Nixon heavily favored for re-election, Mr. McCloskey, a 43-year-old Korean War hero and two-term congressman best known for defeating Shirley Temple Black in a special election, launched his quixotic quest for the Republican nomination.

He had no money, party support or realistic prospects. But he had gone to Vietnam three times, and in campaign appearances he vividly portrayed the war’s “cruelty and futility,” as he put it, evoking cluster bombs that killed or maimed anyone within 25 acres, and napalm strikes that burned all within 150 feet at 2,000 degrees. Tens of thousands of Vietnamese and Americans were dying in a war that could not be won, he argued.

“To talk, as the president does, of winding down the war while he is expanding the use of air power is a deliberate deception,” Mr. McCloskey said. “I’ll probably get licked, but I can’t keep quiet.”

There were comparisons to the 1968 antiwar campaign of Senator Eugene J. McCarthy, whose success in the New Hampshire primary contributed to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s withdrawal from the race. But Mr. McCloskey won only 20 percent in New Hampshire and gave up, though his name appeared on ballots in other states. Nixon went on to win the presidency in a landslide, defeating Senator George McGovern, before resigning in disgrace in 1974 in the wake of the Watergate scandal.

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