Former Klansman Appeals To Many -- Whites Angry At `Anything' Minority Back David Duke
WASHINGTON - David Duke, running in today's election for the governor of Louisiana, presents himself as a regular, Christian guy-next-door who simply "represents all the basic opinions of Republican conservative thought."
That's news to President Bush, who calls Duke "an insincere charlatan." Even this description is charitable. Leaving aside Duke's past as an atheist, draft dodger and tax cheat, Duke is, first and foremost, a lifelong racist. His vision holds that Caucasians are genetically superior to other races, that the Holocaust is a myth perpetrated by "Jewish Hollywood," and that blacks are predisposed to violence and are incapable of grasping math and science.
It's easy enough, based on his past, to make Duke a monster.
But there are not half a million monsters in Louisiana - that's the number of votes Duke polled in the Oct. 19 primary election. Furthermore, Duke's appeal goes far beyond Louisiana's borders. For this reason, the true challenge Duke poses for the two major political parties - whether he wins or loses today - is handling the anger and alienation of millions of whites across the nation.
They are people like Jon Procell, a 44-year-old contractor from Metairie, Duke's home base. Procell voted for Ronald Reagan twice and George Bush once. But his longstanding opposition to school busing and his experience being shut out of 25 percent of the government contracts in New Orleans because his firm wasn't
minority-controlled left him feeling he had nowhere to turn but to David Duke.
"All over the country, it's the same: We've gone too far trying to help minorities," he said. "They use that word, `minority,' and it means blacks, women, the handicapped, Hispanics, anything - anything, so long as it's not white. . . . David Duke's slogan is `Equal rights for all people.' "
This view has particular resonance in the South and is stronger among men than women. Asked their reactions to Duke by the Gallup polling organization, 13 percent of men nationally - but only 7 percent of women - reacted favorably to Duke. In the South, this number was much higher, with 26 percent of white men responding that they had a "favorable" reaction to Duke.
Voting for Duke can be:
-- A protest against politics-as-usual, a sentiment also reflected in the term-limitation movement.
-- A vote against abortion - and Louisiana may be the most fiercely anti-abortion state in the nation.
-- A vote against big labor or inefficient government or affirmative action, or relief checks or unwed teenage mothers.
-- Or, of course, a vote against black people.
At the end of an emotional Duke rally in Kenner, La., three weeks ago, a musclebound Cajun police officer was asked whom he was voting for.
"Duke," he said. Asked why, he spoke his feelings about blacks with a succinct four-letter word.
Many Americans who would never vote for Duke, let alone speak this way, agree with much of what he says. Duke has called for mandatory drug testing for people who live in subsidized housing, for able-bodied adults to work if they want welfare and for incentives for welfare mothers to use birth control.
"If a person was saying what Duke is saying - and wasn't Duke - he'd be elected easily," said Edward Renwick, a Loyola University political scientist.
Duke's platform is so mainstream that one of his legislative proposals in Baton Rouge - to prohibit "race-norming," the practice of altering the results of employment test scores to aid minorities - was included in the civil-rights bill adopted last week by both congressional Democrats and President Bush.
Republicans fear what Duke represents because they don't want to take the blame for letting the ugly genie of racist politics out of the bottle. In every presidential election since 1964, Republican candidates have used code words and subtle images calculated to get the support of disaffected southern whites:
Barry Goldwater spoke of his support for "states rights," when that was a euphemism for segregation.
Ronald Reagan told apocryphal stories of the Chicago "welfare queen" who drove a Cadillac.
George Bush's flag-guns-and-crime campaign of 1988 featured a black rapist and murderer named Willie Horton.
Democrats, on the other hand, fear what Duke represents because they know that when pollsters ask white voters whether they still support the Democratic Party's cherished programs that grant preferences by race in employment and education, only about 20 percent agree.
A barometer of the public's mood exists next door in Mississippi, where a Vicksburg contractor and political neophyte named Kirk Fordice became the first Republican governor of that state since Reconstruction.
Before he sought public office, Fordice was instrumental in challenging government "set-aside" programs that guarantee a percentage of business for minority contractors. His campaign stressed opposition to set-asides and also emphasized the need for "workfare, not welfare."
Unlike Duke, Fordice has no history of race-baiting, and his explanation for why he opposed minority preferences rings true for many voters.
"They almost put me out of business because of the color of my skin," Fordice has said. "And that's just plain unfair. You can't make up for past discrimination by making others suffer."
THE LOUISIANA GOVERNOR'S RACE Louisiana voters will chose today between two candidates with very different political views. Each has a troublesome past.
EDWIN G. EDWARDS Age: 64 Education: Law degree, Louisiana State University Law School, 1949 Profession: Lawyer Major political posts: Governor, 1972-80, 1984-88; Representative, U.S. Congress, 1965-72; State senator, 1964-65; La. Supreme Court justice, 1980 1980s: Was a habitual gambler; twice tried, but never convicted, on federal corruption charges Party: Democrat
DAVID DUKE Age: 41 Education: Bachelor's degree, in history Louisiana State University Profession: Writer, speaker Major political post: State representative, 1989 1970s: Openly espoused Nazism, worked with National Socialist White People's Party; former grand wizard of Klu Klux Klan; quit in 1980 Party: Self-proclaimed conservative Republican; disavowed by national party
STATE POLITICAL MAP AT-A-GLANCE
Population (Total: 4.4 million) White - 70% Black - 30%
State legislature Senate (Total: 39) Democrats - 33 Republicans - 6
House (Total 105) Democrats - 87 Republicans - 18
All candidates regardless of party appeared on same ballot in last month's open primary. Since no one received a majority, the top two candidates face each other in today's runoff election.
CURRENT GOVERNOR Charles "Buddy" Roemer; elected as Democrat, turned Republican last March: backed by White House in primary but lost
SOURCE: Edwards Campaign Headquarters, Duke Campaign headquarters, World Almanac, news reports; Research by PAT CARR
Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.