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News Analysis: Republicans Deny Duke’s Candidacy Will Cost Them Jewish Votes in ’92

Leading Jewish Republicans doubt that David Duke’s surprisingly strong showing in the Oct. 19 Louisiana gubernatorial primary will diminish Jewish support for President Bush and GOP congressional candidates in next year’s elections.

They stress that although the former neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klansman is a Republican state legislator, he has been repudiated by both the White House and the Republican National Committee, which do not consider him a Republican.

President Bush reiterated at a White House news conference last Friday that he “could not possibly support David Duke” because of his appeals to racism and bigotry.

But problems could develop if Duke were to win his Nov. 16 runoff election against former Democratic Gov. Edwin Edwards, conceded Richard Fox, co-chairman of the National Jewish Coalition, an organization whose aim is to increase Jewish support for the Republicans.

Yet Fox and others expressed doubt that Duke could be used by Democrats as an issue to discourage Jews from voting for Republicans. Fox predicted that Duke will not be an issue when the presidential campaign gets under way next year.

While Edwards emerged as the front-runner, with 34 percent of the vote in the open primary, Duke, with 32 percent, was a close second.

Gov. Buddy Roemer, a Democrat-turned-Republican who had Bush’s support, was eliminated when he received only 27 percent of the vote.

Every one of several Jewish Republicans interviewed by telephone agreed that Duke’s electoral popularity indicates a problem in this country. But all maintained it is one that affects all Americans, Democrats as well as Republicans.

Duke, who once publicly idolized Adolf Hitler, did not make overt racist references in his campaign, but used code words that were seen as attacking Jews and blacks. His campaign exploited a general dissatisfaction with government.

‘FUNDAMENTALLY A RACIST’

“David Duke is an early alert warning to both Republicans and Democrats,” said Jacob Stein, a longtime Republican activist and onetime chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Stein said there is a need for the leaders of both parties to understand the problems in the country and provide the leadership to solve them.

Bush seemed to agree at his news conference. He said Duke appeared to “influence a lot of plain, honest, decent voters. There is a discontent among a lot of voters. Maybe he touched a cord on that.”

Matthew Brooks, executive director of the National Jewish Coalition, argued that Duke is a “bipartisan problem.”

Brooks said while the Republican leadership has shunned Duke, the Democrats have not done the same to Rep. Gus Savage (D-III), who has frequently made anti-Semitic remarks.

“I see no difference in the messages of hatred and anti-Semitism between Gus Savage and David Duke,” Brooks said.

Fox said Duke is “fundamentally a racist” who takes on whatever party suits him for the moment.

“Everyone in the political system sees this guy as a total aberration and someone they don’t want to have anything to do with,” he said.

Asked what would happen if Duke appears as a delegate to the Republican National Convention in Houston next August, all the Jewish Republicans said they doubted his credentials would be accepted.

But the National Jewish Democratic Council believes that Bush and other national Republicans should do more that just wash their hands of the Louisiana state legislator.

The council sent a letter to the White House last Friday urging Bush to endorse the Democrat Edwards. The letter was signed by Stuart Eizenstat and Steve Grossman, vice chairmen of the council; Hyman Bookbinder; Howard Squadron; and Steve Gutow, the council’s executive director.

“We realize that this is an unusual request of a Republican president, but the Louisiana gubernatorial race is not a typical situation, given David Duke’s neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan past,” the letter said.

Gutow said that either Edwards or Duke will be elected Louisiana’s governor in the runoff, and the choice is clear. “No one suggests any racist or sexist or religious bigotry” on the part of Edwards, he said.

But Bush said at his Friday news conference that he will not involve himself in the runoff.

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