Election Gives Former Neo-nazi Shot at Louisiana Governorship

David Duke, a former neo-Nazi and grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, has emerged as one of the two remaining contenders for Louisiana’s governorship, after edging Gov. Buddy Roemer out of a tight, three-way race Saturday.

Duke, a Republican state legislator shunned by the White House and national GOP, will square off against former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards, a Democrat, in a runoff election Nov. 16.

Edwards, who had anticipated that Duke, rather than Roemer, would be defeated, had expressed doubts along the campaign trail that voters would take seriously “a grown man who ran around for years in a sheet.”

Edwards emerged the front-runner in Saturday’s primary election with 34 percent of the vote. Duke garnered 32 percent, and Roemer trailed with 27 percent.

Duke’s rhetoric during the campaign has not been of the racist nature associated with the Klan. Rather than making overt references to race or religion, Duke spoke in more subtle terms about the “New York influence” and the “rising welfare underclass.”

The candidate spoke in more concrete terms five years ago when, during a taped interview with a doctoral student researching the Klan, he said Jews belong in the “ash bin of history” and should be resettled outside the United States.

While the former Klansman attributes his past activities to his youth, there is “no indication that he has changed his beliefs,” according to Ted Flaum, director of the Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans.

‘LOOKING FOR SCAPEGOATS’

Flaum said Duke’s victory indicates that voters “are looking for scapegoats and easy solutions to serious problems.”

Lance Hill, executive director of the Louisiana Coalition Against Racism and Nazism, said Duke’s appeal is “very simple: He offers an authoritarian racist solution to crime and economic deterioration.”

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, expressed disappointment that the “electorate was willing to either blink their eyes to this man’s racism and anti-Semitism or to be supportive of it.”

Jerome Chanes, co-director for domestic concerns at the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, said Duke’s candidacy raises two questions: what his success in Louisiana means in terms of the resurgence of extremist groups in American society and what it means in terms of the re-emergence of anti-Semitism in the political process.

Chanes said he believes Duke’s victory is not reflective of society at large.

“The experience over many decades has been that, generally speaking, Americans tend to repudiate, to reject out of hand, extremist, racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric,” he said.

But Hill said polls indicate that Duke stands a good chance of capturing Louisiana’s governorship. His anti-racist coalition, which has been credited with playing a role in Duke’s defeat in his bid for a U.S. Senate seat last year, plans an active television and radio campaign against him.

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