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Bob Beckel, campaign manager and political commentator, dies at 73

Bob Beckel, who managed the 1984 presidential campaign of Democrat Walter Mondale and later became a fixture on television as a political analyst, including as a co-host of the Fox News panel show “The Five,” died Feb. 20 at his home in Silver Spring, Md. He was 73.

The death was confirmed by his daughter, MacKenzie Beckel, who did not specify a cause. A spokesman for the Maryland medical examiner’s office said determination of the cause of death is pending further tests.

Mr. Beckel’s career in politics began in 1968 during Robert F. Kennedy’s run for the Democratic presidential nomination. Sixteen years later, as Mondale’s campaign manager, he helped the former vice president secure the party’s nomination after overcoming an early loss to Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.) in the New Hampshire primary.

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Mr. Beckel was widely credited with borrowing a line from a then-popular Wendy’s hamburger commercial — “Where’s the beef?” — which Mondale used to criticize Hart during a debate. Hart’s campaign soon imploded, and Mondale went on to face incumbent Ronald Reagan in the general election. In one of the most lopsided presidential elections in history, Mondale won only D.C. and his home state of Minnesota.

“I decided I didn’t want to do any more campaigns,” Mr. Beckel told The Washington Post in 1991. “When you manage the largest loss in American politics, nobody is particularly asking you, either.”

He established a consulting firm and advised major organizations on media strategies. He also began a second career as a political commentator, and by the early 1990s, Mr. Beckel was often seen on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Fox’s “Off the Record” and CNN’s “Crossfire.” He also had a long-running point-counterpoint column in USA Today with conservative writer Cal Thomas.

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“Only in America,” Mr. Beckel said in 1988, “can a guy manage a campaign that loses 49 states in one election season and then be on television analyzing the next one.”

Often wearing bright-colored suspenders, the burly, gravel-voiced Mr. Beckel was an almost daily presence on Fox programs, as one of the few left-leaning commentators on the conservative cable network.

In 2011, he was named a co-host of “The Five,” a popular roundtable discussion program that included, at different times, Kimberly Guilfoyle, Dana Perino, Greg Gutfeld and Jesse Watters. He was often the lone liberal voice on the panel.

Mr. Beckel supported the policies of President Barack Obama, but he also courted controversy with some of his statements about Muslims and changing social mores. He called WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange “a traitor,” adding, “I’m not for the death penalty, so … there’s only one way to do it: illegally shoot” him.

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After Islamic extremists killed 12 people at the office of the French satirical journal Charlie Hebdo, Mr. Beckel declared, “I am an Islamophobe. That’s right — you can call me that all you want.”

Early in his tenure on “The Five,” Mr. Beckel mentioned he was a recovering addict who had struggled with alcohol and cocaine. In 2015, he took a leave from the show for back surgery, then sought treatment for dependence on painkillers. During his absence, he was fired by Fox.

“We tried to work with Bob for months, but we couldn’t hold ‘The Five’ hostage to one man’s personal issues,” Bill Shine, who was executive vice president of programming, said at the time in a statement.

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In January 2017, Mr. Beckel was reinstated as a co-host of “The Five,” only to be dismissed four months later for allegedly making a racially insensitive remark to a Black technology worker at Fox News.

Mr. Beckel told a St. Louis radio talk show in 2019 that the incident “didn’t happen” and that his second firing from Fox had been “completely set up by someone.”

“This was not about a racist comment,” he said. “This was because I was the loudest voice on that network against Donald Trump.”

Robert Gilliland Beckel was born Nov. 15, 1948, in New York City and grew up in Lyme, Conn. His father was a high school and college teacher and civil rights advocate. His mother had been a model. Both parents were alcoholics, Mr. Beckel wrote in a 2015 memoir, “I Should Be Dead: My Life Surviving Politics, TV, and Addiction.”

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Mr. Beckel played football at Wagner College on Staten Island, graduating in 1970. He served in the Peace Corps in the Philippines in 1971 and 1972, then became active in Democratic political campaigns. He joined the State Department in 1977 and, as a liaison with Congress, participated in President Jimmy Carter’s effort to win passage of the Panama Canal Treaty. He was in charge of Carter’s 1980 Texas reelection operation against Reagan.

In 2000, Mr. Beckel publicly called on electors in Florida to overturn George W. Bush’s slim victory in the state over Democratic candidate Al Gore. Gore rejected such a move, and Mr. Beckel’s business partners split with him over the plan, leading to the breakup of his consulting firm.

The night before Bush was inaugurated in 2001, Mr. Beckel later wrote in his memoir, he was drinking heavily at a seedy bar in Maryland. After he made a pass at a married woman, her jealous husband appeared with a handgun, pointed it at Mr. Beckel’s face and pulled the trigger. The gun misfired.

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Afterward, Mr. Beckel was hospitalized in a psychiatric ward, sought treatment for addiction and said he became a born-again Christian.

He later expressed remorse for his role in promoting political division in the country and in 2007 published a book written with Thomas, “Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That Is Destroying America.”

“I was one of those people adding fuel to this partisan fire,” Mr. Beckel said.

His marriage to Leland Ingham ended in divorce. Survivors include two children, MacKenzie Beckel of New York and Robert Alexander Beckel of Silver Spring; a sister; and a brother.

Mr. Beckel’s bare-knuckled approach to politics didn’t always end on Election Day. In 2007, while sitting in his car in a parking lot in Bethesda, Md., he noticed two construction workers commenting on his bumper stickers disparaging Bush and Republicans.

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“Boys, get away from the bumper stickers,” Mr. Beckel said, getting out of his car, as he later told The Post.

“You got no respect for the presidency,” one of the workers said.

“I certainly do,” Mr. Beckel responded. “It’s this president that I have very little respect for.”

A fistfight ensued, with the 6-foot-1, 235-pound Mr. Beckel ending up with a black eye while knocking one of the men to the pavement.

“I’m sort of asking for trouble,” Mr. Beckel said of his bumper stickers. But “they’ll stay exactly where they are — proudly.”