LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Walter ‘‘Dee’’ Huddleston, a former two-term US senator who lost his reelection bid in 1984 to Republican Mitch McConnell in one of Kentucky’s most storied and pivotal political campaigns, died Tuesday. He was 92.
Mr. Huddleston, a Democratic powerbroker in his home state before he went to Washington, died in his sleep at his son’s home in Warsaw, Ky., said his son, Steve Huddleston. He said his father embodied ‘‘the quintessential 20th-century American story,’’ living through the Great Depression, fighting in World War II and getting his education, thanks to the GI Bill, before rising to the highest levels of state and national politics.
Mr. Huddleston served as a state senator in Kentucky from 1965 to 1972, when voters elevated him to the US Senate. His Senate career ended in 1984 when McConnell, the underdog challenger, unseated Mr. Huddleston by just more than 5,000 votes.
McConnell, then the Jefferson County judge-executive in the state’s most populous county, was boosted by Republican President Ronald Reagan’s landslide reelection victory in Kentucky. McConnell, now the Senate majority leader, on Tuesday remembered his one-time foe as a ‘‘member of the Greatest Generation’’ who won the respect of his colleagues from Kentucky to Washington, D.C.
‘‘When we each had the opportunity to share our visions for Kentucky’s future in 1984, I experienced Dee’s tenacity, competitiveness, and skill firsthand,’’ McConnell said in a statement. ‘‘He was a tough competitor, and I always respected him for his service to our home state.’’
Mr. Huddleston was put on the defensive during the campaign by a McConnell commercial of a bloodhound searching for the incumbent to claim he had a less-than-stellar Senate attendance record. Mr. Huddleston later said the ad was based on a ‘‘false premise,’’ but conceded he didn’t take it seriously enough and should have countered it.
A Democrat who spent much of his adult life in Elizabethtown, Ky., Mr. Huddleston seemed at ease with his life away from the political spotlight. After leaving the Senate, Mr. Huddleston spent decades as an executive at a Washington, D.C., consulting firm.
Mr. Huddleston never ran for elective office again after his defeat, his son said.
The son of a Methodist minister, Mr. Huddleston was born in Burkesville in Cumberland County on April 15, 1926. He graduated from Jeffersontown High School in Jefferson County, where he was a standout basketball player, and then served as a tank gunner in World War II.
He went to college on the GI Bill, graduating from the University of Kentucky. He married his high school sweetheart, and worked in radio until his election to the US Senate.
Mr. Huddleston was elected to the US Senate in 1972, defeating Republican Louie B. Nunn. He was reelected in 1978.
‘‘He was a man of high intelligence and had a reasoned approach to life, and he conducted himself with great dignity and in a way that brought honor to himself throughout his lifetime,’’ his son said Tuesday.