Lar Daly and the Art of Losing Elections
By Ken Zurski
In 1952, the name General MacArthur appeared on the Wisconsin Republican primary ballot for President of the United States. This was unusual, because the famous general everyone knew, Douglas MacArthur, was not in the running.
More on that in a moment.
First, the person responsible for the inclusion of General MacArthur on the ballot is a man named Lawrence Joseph Sarsfield Daly, or Lar Daly for short. Daly was a political shill from the Midwest who unsuccessfully ran for a variety of political offices including Mayor of Chicago and eventually President of the United States. “What made [Daly] famous was his hobby,” a Chicago historian once wrote. “He ran for public office –and lost.” In 1952, however, Daly had another tapped for the White House, Douglas MacArthur, the popular World War II general.
That year President Harry Truman decided he would not seek reelection for a second full term and backed Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson II for the nomination instead. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was the clear choice on the Republican side. Daly, however, liked another general, MacArthur, who had made it clear from the onset that he was not in the running. Daly, who had just lost to Representative Everett Dirksen of Pekin in the 1950 Republican primary election for the Illinois U.S. Senate seat, took the matter in his own hands. Without permission, he added the general’s name to the list of Republican nominees in the Illinois primary.
When MacArthur found out, he promptly had it removed.
Undeterred, Daly tried a different tactic in the Wisconsin primary. He grabbed the Chicago phone book and looked up the name MacArthur. To his surprise he found a man with the last name MacArthur and first name, General.
Daly called the man and asked if he knew of the famous general. The man said he thought the general was a “fine American.” When Daly asked if he could put his name on the ballot, General MacArthur, a 42-year old African American with eight children, said “yes.”
By law, as long as there was a signed consent, the name Mr. General MacArthur could legally appear on the Wisconsin ballot.
The novelty, however, was never a secret. Thanks to Daly, Mr. MacArthur took a few smiling photos for “Life” magazine and other publications, but never sought out any publicity for himself or his family. There were no monetary awards for his efforts. He continued to work as a tank inspector at a packinghouse. Nothing changed.
Daly hoped to find some delegates in the state and perhaps drum up support for Gen. Douglas MacArthur to consider a run, but there were few takers. Eisenhower easily won the nomination and later that year beat Stevenson by a landslide for the presidency.
Privately, Daly lived in a modest two story brick bungalow on Chicago’s south side and drove a Ford Station wagon, painted red, white and blue. He had six children and sold bar stools for a living. “To bookies,” he once said, “so they had somewhere to stand when they wrote the odds on the chalkboard.”
Born in Gary, Indiana in 1912, Daly’s mother died when he was five. His father, a policeman and fireman in town, moved the two boys, Lar and his brother, to Chicago. That’s where Lar became politically connected. In the second grade, he sold vegetables for a street peddler and gained friends among the local housewives. This would work to his advantage. As a teenager, Lar worked the streets again. No longer was he peddling produce, but candidates. He passed out fliers and helped vote seekers gain support in his Chicago neighborhood. At the age of 20, Daly decided to run against a powerful Cook County Democratic ward committeeman. He lost big in the election but won by defeating a court challenge of filing fake petition signatures. “I knew my petitions are good,” Lar said in his defense. “I got all the signatures myself.” Just getting on the ballot was a victory of sorts for the young politico.
In 1938, Lar ran for Cook County Superintendent of Schools, even though he himself never got past the first year of high school. He was listed as Lawrence J. Daly on the ballot and thanks to the Irish sounding name picked up nearly 300,000 votes, but still lost. It would remain the closest he ever came to actually winning an election.
Politically, Daly was an equal-opportunity candidate and ran on whichever ticket gave him the best shot to win. His views, however, were more in line with libertarians. He was for legalized gambling, against public education, and called for major tax cuts. He was also a staunch isolationist, often making campaign stops wearing an Uncle Sam suit, and calling himself the “America First” candidate.
In 1960, he was a “write in” candidate for President.
Even though he was never considered a serious threat to the two major parties, Daly sued – some say threatened – the FCC to force radio and television news broadcasts to give him equal coverage. He never got on the debate stage with the two nominees, then Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice-President Richard M. Nixon, but when JFK guested on The Tonight Show, Jack Paar’s late-night NBC talk show, Daly demanded—and got—his “equal time.” Paar was furious but went along. “Mr. Daly, I would like to know where your supporters are located” challenged a man in the audience. “I teach special studies in Illinois, and we’ve never heard of you.”
“Well, sir,” replied Daly, “you apparently don’t read newspapers, watch television, listen to the radio, or attend meetings, because in every Illinois campaign in which I engage, I am known as the tireless candidate.”
The studio audience booed as Daly calmly demanded: “Your only choice is America first—or death.”
Parr cut to a commercial, “for the tireless candidate,” he said sarcastically.
After the taping, Lar took off his Uncle Sam suit went to a New York bar and inconspicuously watched the show as it aired that night. “Holy smokes, what the hell is this?” said a patron during Daly’s segment.
Daly hardly registered a vote in the 1960 general election, besides his own. But that didn’t stop him. He continued on each subsequent year for many more years, running for offices mostly in Illinois for the U.S Senate seat and numerous attempts for Mayor of Chicago against another Daley (spelled differently).
He lost, of course, every time.
One thought on “Lar Daly and the Art of Losing Elections”
June 13, 2019 at 8:56 pm
I am interested in finding out if either of the Lar Daly images – the campaign button or the photo of Daly shaking hands with Jack Paar – are available? I am completing work on a book for Southern Illinois University Press titled Tales of Forgotten Chicago and I was wondering if it would be possible to acquire a hi-res JPeg or Tiff image for publication of one of these photos, preferably the Jack Paar photo. Please advise. Thank you.