Mike Gravel, former US Senator from Alaska, dead at 91

Mike Gravel, a former U.S. Senator from Alaska and later mounted multiple unsuccessful presidential bids, has died. He was 91.

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Gravel’s daughter Lynne Mosier confirmed he died Saturday. Gravel, who had been living in Seaside, California, was in poor health, said Theodore W. Johnson, a former aide.

Gravel represented Alaska as a Democrat in the Senate from 1969 to 1981. He first won his seat after defeating incumbent Sen. Ernest Gruening in the 1968 Democratic primary. He served two terms. He lost to Gruening’s grandson, Clark Gruening, in the 1980 Democratic primary. Gruening later lost the election to Republican Frank Murkowski.

Gravel’s time as a senator came at a challenging time for the state, including the construction of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline; deciding how to settle Alaska Native lands claims; and whether to classify huge tracts of land as parks, preserves and monuments. Congress eventually passed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980, which set aside millions of acres of land for national parks, wildlife refuges and other protected areas.

His Senate tenure was also marked by his anti-war stance. In 1971, he led a one-man filibuster in protest to the Vietnam-era draft. He read 4,100 pages of the 7,000-page leaked document known as the Pentagon Papers, which chronicled the Defense Department’s involvement in Vietnam.

Gravel later twice ran for president. He led an unsuccessful quest for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination as a critic of the Iraq war. He later ran briefly for the nomination for president in 2020, criticizing American wars and vowing to cut military spending. He failed to qualify for the debates and later endorsed Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

“There was never any ... plan that he would do anything more than participate in the debates. He didn’t plan to campaign, but he wanted to get his ideas before a larger audience,” Johnson said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.