Charles "Mac" Mathias, a former three-term senator from Maryland, died Monday at the age of 87. A Republican in a Democratic state — and a liberal in a conservative party — Mathias was a very popular (except with conservatives) lawmaker who during his 26-year congressional career fought for civil rights and opposed the Vietnam War.
Running as a moderate Republican, he was first elected to the House in 1960, defeating freshman Rep. John Foley. He comfortably won re-election three times before taking on Sen. Daniel Brewster (D) in 1968. Questions about Brewster, a longtime friend who had been an usher at Mathias' wedding, regarding campaign contributions became a key issue in the race, which was narrowly won by Mathias. Six years later, in the midst of the Watergate scandal that eviscerated Republicans nationwide, Mathias nonetheless won a landslide second term over Baltimore city councilmember Barbara Mikulski; she went on to succeed Mathias when he retired in 1986.
In the Senate, Mathias voted against President Nixon's Supreme Court nominees Clement Haynsworth and G. Harrold Carswell, as well as President Reagan's decision to elevate William Rehnquist to chief justice in 1986. He was a strong backer of limits on campaign spending Earlier, in the House, he was a key GOP supporter of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
In 1980, conservatives — exasperated by Mathias' liberal voting record — had hoped a known entity would challenge him in the Republican primary, but none did. Three relatively little-known candidates (including now-Representative Roscoe Bartlett) ran against him, and held him to a career-low 55 percent. But he led his nearest challenger by more than 3-to-1, and went on to an easy victory in November. His last term in the Senate was the only time in his career he served in the majority.