Ex-Democratic Party chairman Robert Strauss dies at 95

Robert Strauss

Credit: AFP/Getty Images

President George W. Bush confers with Robert Strauss (R), former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, at the White House on January 22, 2001. (MANNY CENETA/AFP/Getty Images)

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by CATALINA CAMIA

USA TODAY

Posted on March 20, 2014 at 1:59 AM

WASHINGTON — Robert Strauss, a colorful Texan who led the national Democratic Party in the 1970s, died Wednesday. He was 95.

Strauss, chairman of Jimmy Carter's 1976 and 1980 campaigns, was an old-school powerbroker who shared his insight with Democrats and Republicans in the White House — from Lyndon Johnson to George W. Bush.

Strauss' sister-in-law, Annette, served as mayor of Dallas from 1987 to 1991.

He was Democratic National Committee chairman from 1973 to 1976. Strauss also served as ambassador to the Soviet Union and then the Russian Federation at the request of President George H.W. Bush, with whom he had been friends since they were both political party chairmen.

After helping Carter win the White House, Strauss served as U.S. trade representative and guided a key trade bill through Congress. Carter then tapped Strauss to be his personal representative to the Middle East with the idea of building on the landmark peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.

Strauss was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, for his diplomatic efforts in 1981.

"Barbara and I mourn the passing of a Texan of legendary influence whose lifelong devotion to the Democratic Party never precluded his ability to work across the aisle on matters of national importance," the elder Bush said in a statement. "Bob may have cut his teeth in the brass knuckle and highly partisan fields of Texas politics but he counseled several presidents of both parties — and like the others, I valued his advice highly."

Nancy Reagan recalled that she and her husband first met Strauss decades ago when Ronald Reagan was in the White House.

"People ask me how I could be acquainted with him since he was such a staunch Democrat," she said in a statement. "My answer was always quick and firm — it didn't matter to him what political party I belonged to and it certainly didn't matter to me which political convention he attended. He served this country with great distinction."

"Bob was one of the greatest leaders the Democratic Party ever had," President Obama said in a statement. "Yet, presidents of both parties relied on his advice, his instincts and his passion for public service — not to mention his well-honed sense of humor."

Strauss was born in Lockhart, Texas — a small town south of Austin -- in 1918. While a student at the University of Texas, he volunteered for Johnson's first campaign for Congress.

After earning his law degree from the University of Texas law school, Strauss served as special agent for the FBI during World War II. He moved to Dallas after the war and co-founded the powerhouse law firm known today as Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, which now has 20 offices around the world.

Contributing: Associated Press

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