Last Sunday at Martin Wine Cellar in Uptown New Orleans, veteran political journalists Tyler Bridges and Jeremy Alford signed copies of their new book, Long Shot: A Soldier, A Senator, An Epic Louisiana Election. Clancy Dubos, the co-owner of the alt-weekly Gambit and the editor of the book, hovered around the audience. So too did James Carville and Mary Matalin, who had both written separate introductions.
Over the course of 2 hours, more than 250 people streamed in, remarkable, in part, because their book signing was competing against another major event; the New Orleans Saints were playing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The book eventually sold out.
Mary Matalin and I spent most of the time talking with one another about our favorite television shows and movies; her husband James had been wandering around the room, signing books and, at one point, a DVD copy of the documentary movie that helped make him into a bona fide celebrity, “The War Room.”
At the end of the signing, Bridges and Alford spoke only briefly about what had inspired them to write the book, and then they opened the floor up to questions.
“Louisiana has a great tradition of political campaign books,” Carville said, while seated at the side of the room. “And this book carries the tradition of one of the greatest political reporters of all-time, A.J. Liebling.”
The audience applauded; it was one of the kindest compliments Carville could have possibly bestowed. Liebling’s book, The Earl of Louisiana, is Carville’s favorite book about his favorite Louisiana politician, Earl K. Long. The book is a touchstone for him, and as any of his students at Tulane or his friends can attest, he has always been an evangelist for Liebling’s work. This was, indeed, high praise.
Carville wasn’t asking a question; he was issuing an endorsement.
Yesterday, I read Long Shot, all 321 pages of it, in a single-sitting. And with all due respect to Carville, it’s not The Earl of Louisiana, with its colorful metaphors and bombast and evocative dialogue. To Liebling, Louisiana was like a foreign country, and he wrote from the perspective of a foreign correspondent.
Long Shot is not a work of lyrical non-fiction, nor does it ever attempt to be. It is, instead, an insightful and thoroughly researched work of book-form journalism about one of the most improbable victories in modern Louisiana history, written by two men who have spent their entire careers exploring and unpacking every nook and cranny of Louisiana politics.
Right now, there are no two print journalists in the world who command a greater knowledge and institutional memory of Louisiana politics more than Tyler Bridges and Jeremy Alford.
Of course, just as in The Earl of Louisiana, we know how the story will end before we even flip to the first page. That’s not the point. The story isn’t how it ended; it’s about why it ended the way it did. It’s more like a true crime story than a character study.
For those who closely followed the 2015 gubernatorial campaign, which was rife with innuendo and salacious rumors, Long Shot does not reveal any explosive new details. But what it does, however, is brilliantly and methodically piece together the ways in which a small-town Democratic state legislator, John Bel Edwards, quietly and expertly cleared the field for himself and then defeated the most popular Republican elected official, David Vitter, in a state that everyone had assumed to be indelibly ruby red, even leaders of Edwards’ own party.
If you hadn’t followed the campaign closely, I’ll try not to spoil anything, except to say that you are in for a wild ride.
Because David Vitter did not agree to interview for the book, it is much more difficult to understand his character or his motivations: He comes across as shamelessly Machiavellian yet, at the same time, staid and detached and inauthentic. While the majority of Louisiana voters may have agreed with his politics, there seems to be very little to like about his personality, at least during the gubernatorial campaign.
John Bel Edwards, on the other hand, pops off the page. He was calculated, like Vitter, but he was also jovial, warm, and, sometimes at his own peril, brutally honest.
Long Shot reminds readers that politics isn’t always about loyalty to rigid partisan orthodoxy; politics, frequently, is about personal stories and personalities; it’s about a candidate’s capacity for empathy and their reliability.
It is challenging to objectively review a book about something I personally experienced. My name appears at least three times in Long Shot. I know both of its authors, its editor, and practically all of its central cast of characters. There are stories that I would have included that are omitted and stories I’d never heard that are included.
It also offers important lessons and a template for Southern Democrats on what it takes to win. That obviously was not the book’s intention, but it was one of my biggest takeaways: John Bel Edwards, the former quarterback, knew how to draw a playbook, and John Bel Edwards, the former Army Ranger, also knew how to draw a battle plan. He never wavered, and he, personally, never went off message.
That said, Long Shot is a faithful, exhaustively researched chronicle of a singular and wild moment in the history of a singular and wild place, the Great State of Louisiana.