Country singer and songwriter Jimmie H. Davis, the son of a sharecropper who enlivened the campaign trail by performing with a quartet, won his second term as governor of Louisiana on this day in 1960. Best remembered as the composer of the hit song “You Are My Sunshine,” Davis, who could not read or write music and possessed little formal knowledge of chord structure, had served a previous term as governor of the Pelican State from 1944 to 1948.
Davis’ comeback twelve years after he left the governor’s mansion was never in doubt as he easily trounced Republican Francis C. Grevemberg, a former state police superintendent who had led a widely-publicized crackdown on gambling-related corruption in Louisiana several years earlier. As expected, the “Singing Governor” annihilated his outclassed Republican rival by more than 320,000 votes, defeating the former police chief by a margin of 407,907 votes to 86,135. The States Rights Party’s Kent H. Courtney, a longtime leader of the John Birch Society in New Orleans and publisher of the Independent American newspaper, ran a distant third in that lopsided contest with 12,515 votes.
Promising to preserve segregation while capitalizing on the tumultuous administration of his successor and political rival Earl K. Long, Davis had handily defeated deLesseps Morrison, the debonair mayor of New Orleans, in the Democratic runoff primary three months earlier — a victory tantamount to election in a state where nearly 99 percent of the voters were registered Democratic at the time.
“All I want to do now is to catch two or three big catfish,” an elated Davis told supporters as the returns trickled in on April 19.
While the 1960 campaign marked the pinnacle of the troubadour’s colorful political career, Davis found himself on George C. Wallace’s short list of vice-presidential possibilities in 1968 — the year the former Alabama governor, running on a third-party ticket, captured nearly 10 million votes against Republican Richard M. Nixon and Democrat Hubert H. Humphrey.
The folksy and likeable Davis, who vetoed right-to-work legislation and established the state’s first civil service system during his second term as governor, was reportedly waiting in the wings in the event that former Air Force Chief of Staff Curtis E. LeMay declined to serve as Wallace’s vice-presidential running mate that year.
Davis, a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame who lived to the ripe old age of 101, tried to win the Louisiana governorship for a third time in 1971, but finished fourth in that year’s unusually crowded Democratic primary.