Harold Hughes: A Comeback Unlike Any Other



When in politics we speak of comebacks, it is usually a matter of having lost an election and won for the same or better position. For Harold Hughes (1922-1996), the word comeback took a different meaning altogether. In 1952, he was a 30-year old married truck driver who felt stuck in his life. Hughes was an alcoholic, a college dropout, had suffered personal tragedy, and had a jail record. One night, he hit rock bottom. Hughes climbed into his bathtub and put a shotgun in his mouth. Before he decided to pull the trigger, he cried out, “Oh God, I’m a failure, a drunk, a liar, and a cheat. I’m lost and hopeless and want to die. Forgive me for doing this” (Strachan, 51). Instead of pulling the trigger, however, Hughes suddenly felt what he described as a wave of peace and forgiveness. He believed that night that God had intervened and from that moment forward, Harold Hughes set out to fix his life. He eventually quit drinking altogether, rose up in his company, and ten years after his suicide attempt, he was elected Governor of Iowa as a Democrat.

His tenure was a liberal one, successfully pushing for increasing unemployment compensation, higher taxes on income and inheritance, and the abolition of capital punishment. On the conservative side of things, however, he successfully pushed for a line-item veto. In 1968, Hughes ran for the Senate and narrowly prevailed. He was a Great Society liberal but always had a special policy emphasis on the treatment of alcoholism and drug addiction. Hughes staunchly opposed the Nixon Administration’s policy on Vietnam and urged an immediate pullout conditional on return of prisoners of war. In 1972, he considered running for president, but ultimately chose to drop out as he strongly disliked the small talk and political glad-handing required. The following year, Hughes opted to end his time in the Senate at one term, believing his calling was best fulfilled on a personal, rather than a political approach. He devoted the remainder of his life to helping spread the word and deeds of Jesus Christ and to helping others to overcome alcohol and drug addiction.

Harold Hughes’ experience was a truly American one: a tale of redemption and second chances leading to success. Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, this story is inspirational and should tell you that even in your darkest hour in a world full of pain and suffering that you should never give up on yourself.


Strachan, O. (2015). The Colson way: Loving your neighbor and living with faith in a hostile world. Nashville, TN: Nelson Books.


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