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Where Were You?

“Brandy McCain, where were you the night of…?”

This is a more-or-less faithful retelling of the great, “Where Were You?” controversy that occurred back in the fall of 1951. However, due warning is hereby given that being as how the story involves Louisiana politics, no claim is made, either explicit or implied, as to whether “more” or “less” predominates.

It’s no secret that politics ranks second only to football as Louisiana’s favorite sport. This was especially true in the years after World War II when populist Democrat “Uncle” Earl Long seemed to move in and out of the Governor’s Mansion on a four-year rotation. With each parish (county) having at least one member of the House of Representative (Senate districts were, theoretically, based on population) a nice farm system existed for those who wanted into the game.

Two such men faced off in the second primary of the race for the house seat from bucolic Grant Parish that fall. W. T. “Brandy” McCain, who’d served in the house from 1940-48, wanted the job back. His opponent, W. L. “Willard” Rambo, was related to the Long family by marriage which seemed reason enough to run.

Back in those days, campaigning consisted of going door-to-door, showing up at any event where three or more voters might gather, plus the usual deal making, and a lot of “stump speaking.” The only available “mass media” in that rural area of north Louisiana was the local weekly paper, The Colfax Chronicle, which came out each Thursday. About a month before the election, at the bottom of the standard full-page ad extolling Willard Rambo’s candidacy, was a simple question: “Brandy McCain, where were you the night of…” followed by an otherwise insignificant date during McCain’s tenure in the House.

The exact date used in the ad is lost to the ages, or the Chronicles’ archives. That’s okay because the exact date wasn’t important. The important thing was McCain having no idea what he’d been doing back then.

Next week, the Rambo ad concluded with a note asking McCain who he’d been with that night. By now, just about everyone in the parish was considering possible answers. After all, McCain had been in the state legislature back then. No telling what he’d been doing.

This put McCain in a bind. Any response would be a week late and might focus even more attention on the issue. For the rest of the campaign he tried, with uneven results, to deal with his inability to answer the weekly questions.

The next question, “Brandy McCain, just what were you doing on the night of…?” kept folks talking, not about the McCain campaign, but about what he might have done years earlier.

By election day, voters went to the polls still unsure where McCain had been that night, or what he’d been doing, or who he’d been doing it with, or why he wouldn’t say.

Rambo won.

A few months later, the two men, who while not close friends, were long-time acquaintances, ran into one another at a watering hole on the highway to Baton Rouge. After the usual exchange of family news, local gossip and talk about politics, McCain asked Rambo the obvious question, “Willard, what the hell was I doing that night? My wife’s still giving me funny looks.”

It’s reported, though not verified, that Rambo grinned, picked up both checks, and said, “Brandy, if you don’t know, how do you expect me to? I’ve no earthly idea. My wife just thought those questions might stir things up a bit and, as usual, Mary Alice was right.”
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