WILMINGTON, Del. — Among the moneyed du Ponts, who preferred the privacy of their elegant homes and the offices and plants of the chemical company that bore their name, Pierre S. “Pete” du Pont IV was a bit of a rebel.
Du Pont, who died Saturday at age 86 after a long illness, according to his former chief of staff, broke with family tradition by leaving the family business for a career in law and politics.
That led du Pont to multiple elected offices and an unsuccessful bid in the 1987-88 Republican presidential primary race.
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The du Ponts, big-money establishment industrialists, were among the nation’s wealthiest families. That wasn’t a problem for du Pont when he ran for statewide office in Delaware.
After one term in the Delaware state House and three terms in Congress, du Pont was elected governor in 1976 and set about working to restore the state’s financial stability.
In this Sunday, Feb. 14, 1988, file photo, Republican presidential candidates, Vice President George Bush, from left, Pat Robertson, Rep. Jack Kemp, Pierre “Pete” du Pont and Senator Bob Dole pose before starting their last debate before the primary in Goffstown, N.H. Pierre S. “Pete” du Pont IV, a former Delaware governor and congressman who sought the 1988 Republican presidential nomination, has died at age 86. Du Pont, a scion of the family that established the DuPont Co., died at his home in Wilmington, Del., on Saturday, May 8, 2021, after a long illness, his former chief of staff, Bob Perkins, said. (AP Photo/Jim Cole, File)
However, his elite background turned out to be a problem for him in his race for national office.
“I was born with a well-known name and genuine opportunity. I hope I have lived up to both,” du Pont said in announcing his longshot presidential bid in September 1986. As a little-known governor of a small state, du Pont had to distinguish himself from the rest of the Republican field – including Vice President George Bush and Sen. Bob Dole.
He did that by questioning sacrosanct social programs that his better-known rivals feared to address, such as doing away with farm subsidiaries.
Some of his positions were more conservative than those taken by then-President Ronald Reagan, including mandatory drug testing of high school students.
Du Pont insisted his was a candidacy of ideas, and he offered no apologies, even after Bush dismissed as “nutty” du Pont’s idea to create another form of Social Security modeled on privat
Pierre ‘Pete’ du Pont IV dies; ran for president in 1988
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