Win the Race or Die Trying
Uncle Earl's Last Hurrah
How one of the last Louisiana Longs escaped a mental institution and died after winning election to Congress
Earl Kemp Long (1895–1960) was the political heir to his brother Huey in Louisiana politics. A country boy who never lost his common touch, he ran for office in every state election between 1933 and 1959. He was the best campaigning politician Louisiana ever produced. In his final term as governor, he suffered a breakdown on live television while addressing members of the legislature. He was kidnapped and committed to mental institutions in Texas and Louisiana. That he engineered his own release gives proof that he was in charge of his faculties.
Abandoned by his family and his allies, Long was written off politically. But in 1960, he had other ideas. He was plotting his comeback. In poor health, smoking and drinking, he decided to challenge the incumbent in Louisiana's Eighth Congressional District, Harold McSween. Doctors warned him that the race could cost him his life. But politics was his life, and he vowed to win the election or die trying. He did both.
This book tells the story of the last year of Long's life and the campaign that he waged and won by sheer force of will. He won the election (and a sizable bet he placed on it), but he was dead in just over a week. Win the Race or Die Trying captures the essence of Earl Long by chronicling the desperate, death-defying campaign he waged to redefine his legacy.
"McGuire has given readers a fine window on a lost age of southern politics"- Jeff Broadwater, The Journal of Southern History
"An entertaining, useful study of a towering Louisiana political figure during his last twilight"- Jerry Sanson, Louisiana History
"No one has a better understanding of the depth and nuances of modern Louisiana politics than Jack B. McGuire. This book marks the culmination of his lifelong fascination with the political career of Earl Kemp Long, Huey's younger brother. McGuire recognizes and appreciates Uncle Earl's mastery of a colorful political environment that has faded into the Pelican State's storied past."- Edward F. Haas, professor emeritus of history at Wright State University and author of Mayor Victor H. Schiro: New Orleans in Transition, 1961-1970
"‘When I'm gone, there won't be any more,’ Earl Long said, and Jack McGuire leaves no doubt about the truth of that assertion. McGuire was there to see Long on the stump more than half a century ago as he waged one last sweaty, helter-skelter, up-close-and-personal campaign and won the seat in Congress he did not live to take. McGuire brings that tumultuous era vividly to life and makes a persuasive case that Long was a political genius who did much to improve the lot of the common man. This is that rare political history—a page turner."- James Gill, columnist for The New Orleans Advocate and author of Lords of Misrule: Mardi Gras and the Politics of Race in New Orleans