NEW YORK (Oct. 8)
David Duke did not win Saturday’s race for U.S. Senate in Louisiana, but his strong showing has many worried.
The former Ku Klux Klan leader was expected to take 20 to 30 percent of the vote, but walked away with 44 percent in the race against three-term Democratic incumbent J. Bennett Johnston, who won with 54 percent.
Duke garnered more than half the votes of whites who turned out at the polls — between 55 and 60 percent, according to initial analyses by local observers.
Many of the votes Duke received were seen as a protest against the political establishment represented by Johnston. But analysts say his white-supremacist views have gained popularity in Louisiana.
Duke’s stronghold lies primarily with white middle-class and working-class men who earn less than $40,000 a year, voters who have been hardhit by the high unemployment rates and general economic malaise blanketing the state.
Analysts attribute his success to a platform built on easy answers to complex problems and to the fact that he provides his supporters with a target for their frustrations: non-whites and non-Christians.
The one-time neo-Nazi activist, who continues to head the National Association for the Advancement of White People, has tried to avoid overt denigrations of blacks and Jews during his latest campaign. Instead, he condemns an “underclass” of welfare recipients and lauds the “Christian spirit” of his supporters.
“People are frustrated and looking for a panacea,” explained B. Botnick, South-Central regional director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.
Duke is appealing because “he is so glib and has an anchorman presence and a silver tongue,” Botnick said.
‘A NAZI AMONG US’
And now that Duke has traded his Ku Klux Klan robes and Nazi uniform for a J.C. Penney suit, he is more “dangerously seductive” than ever, Botnick added.
Duke’s strong showing in this race provides him with valuable credibility and makes him a very attractive candidate for voters who “need the sense that they’re with a winner,” according to Jane Buchsbaum, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans.
She added, “He’s a Nazi among us, I assure you.”
Jewish organizations have been hesitant to mount a community-wide battle against Duke, because of Internal Revenue Service regulations that prohibit non-profit groups with tax-exempt status from actively participating in partisan politics.
Since the IRS has been assiduous in its prosecution of organizations it feels are not remaining sufficiently apolitical, Jewish groups are treading very lightly around the Duke issue.
“We are very conscious and very careful of our status as a not-for-profit,” Buchsbaum said.
But the rabbis of New Orleans’ eight synagogues, which serve a Jewish community of about 14,000, all addressed the Duke issue in their High Holiday sermons.
And individuals have been working with the Louisiana Coalition Against Racism and Nazism, which was founded 18 months ago, shortly after Duke was elected to the Louisiana State Legislature.
The coalition serves as a political action committee and as a clearing house for information about Duke and his activities, which included selling Nazi literature out of his legislative office until three months after he became a state representative.
The group claims 5,000 contributors and volunteers. Speakers have addressed groups at community and parlor meetings across the state, and a direct-mail campaign sent a brochure about Duke to 200,000 registered voters.
A PLEA TO NATIONAL PARTIES
A 60-second television commercial played heavily during the final two weeks of the campaign. It zeroed in on several issues, including the fact that he did not file Louisiana tax returns for four years and that, contrary to his claims, he never served in the armed forces.
Buchsbaum, who participates in the coalition, feels sure that the group’s work “kept him from winning more than he did.”
Lance Hill, the group’s executive director, points out that in March, 32 percent of Louisiana’s white voters regarded Duke negatively, and now that number has risen to 40 percent.
There is little doubt that Duke, who has lost almost every election in which he has run, will run again, at the least in an effort to retain his seat in the state legislature.
Duke, who ran on the Republican ticket in this race, without the party’s approval, is now reportedly considering a run for the House of Representatives and possibly for governor.
Candidates espousing the values of the far-right wing will come “out of the woodwork” now that they see how successful Duke has been, according to Buchsbaum. She believes the interim until the next election is a critical “window of opportunity” for organizations to work on educating voters.
In a statement issued Monday, American Jewish Committee President Sholom Comay urged both the Democratic and Republican national parties to “take advantage of the time before the next election to develop a strategy” to deny party support for bigots.
The Jewish Defense Organization, a far-right group itself, has started a postcard campaign asking the Republican Party to expel Duke, according to its head, Mordechai Levy.
The Coalition Against Racism and Nazism, though $40,000 in debt from its campaign to combat Duke, is now planning a long-term strategy against the “perennial candidate” and against bigotry in general.
“We are broadening our organization to include projects like developing anti-prejudice and Holocaust curriculums in the schools,” said Hill.
“We think the best way to combat bigotry and anti-Semitism is education over a long period of time,” he said. “We will continue to monitor the activities of Duke and the far right. We are not going away.”
Because of Simchat Torah, the JTA Daily News Bulletin will not be published on Friday, Oct. 12.