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Jane Muskie, 77, widow of Maine senator

LOS ANGELES -- Jane Gray Muskie, the widow of Senator Edmund Muskie, whose 1972 presidential campaign faltered after he appeared to weep while denouncing newspaper attacks against her, died Saturday at her home in Bethesda, Md., of Alzheimer's disease. She was 77.

Her husband died of a heart attack in 1996.

The incident that derailed the senator's bid for the Democratic presidential nomination -- regarded as a historic example of how a presidential candidate could at one time be undone by displaying emotion -- occurred before the New Hampshire primary. The conservative Manchester Union Leader and its publisher William Loeb had accused Senator Muskie of making ethnic slurs and said his wife, in an article reprinted from Newsweek and The Wall Street Journal, had used pithy language in the campaign.

"By attacking me and my wife," the senator said of Loeb in a speech atop a flatbed truck outside the newspaper, "he has proved himself to be a gutless coward."

The candidate denied referring to French-Canadians as "Canucks" and vehemently defended his wife, choking up several times.

The Washington Post asserted that Muskie cried during the speech, and Republicans seized on the report to float claims that the candidate was emotionally unstable and unfit to be president.

Muskie insisted until his death, with support from many reporters and other observers, that the shiny liquid seen on his face was not tears but melting snowflakes.

Nevertheless, the campaign was doomed. Democratic rival George McGovern won the nomination and lost the general election to President Nixon.

Ironically, tears visibly streamed down the face of President Bush during a 1999 CNN interview when the then-Texas governor spoke of Texas A&M students who were killed as they set up logs for a bonfire. Times had changed.

"Now it's quite acceptable for a man to show his emotions," Jane Muskie told the Los Angeles Times in 1986. "President Reagan does it all the time."

She said the remarks prompting the news story that upset her husband were made on a media bus filled with female reporters traveling in New Hampshire. In an unguarded moment, she said in 1986, she referred to liquor as "booze" and suggested to pass the time, "Let's tell dirty jokes."

"I know those remarks were taken out of context," she said in the 1986 interview. "They should never have been reported. But since they were, I don't feel apologetic about them. . . . It is something that will live with us until we die, and we accept that. I'm not happy driving through Manchester, N.H., even today."

A native of Waterville, Maine, Jane Gray married Muskie, 12 years her senior, in 1948. She was 19 and working in a Waterville dress shop when she met him at a party for veterans.

She campaigned with him and supported him through terms in the Maine Legislature, as Maine governor and US senator, when he ran unsuccessfully for vice president with Hubert Humphrey in 1968, and during his appointment as secretary of state under President Carter.

Mrs. Muskie, who had five children, will be buried next to her husband in Arlington National Cemetery.

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