Louisianans Pick Edwards To Lead State, But Duke's Message Could Linger in '92
EX-KLANSMAN David Duke went down to a crushing defeat in Louisiana, but his political ideas have fired a warning shot across the bow of the Republican Party.Although he was decisively beaten in the race for governor, Duke's principal issues - affirmative action, welfare, crime, and the loss of middle-class jobs - resonated strongly with hundreds of thousands of white voters. Those issues could play a significant role in next year's battles for the White House and Congress. In the South, political analysts predict that Mr. Duke will run again for office - perhaps for Congress or the presidency - and that he will continue to prove he has appeal to angry, disaffected Americans. "The Duke phenomenon has a real potential for disrupting Republican politics," predicts Earl Black, an authority on Southern trends. "Duke is emerging as the Republican George Wallace. He represents a potential problem for the GOP in presidential politics." Wayne Parent, a political scientist at Louisiana State University, says Duke's campaign has resurrected the ancient problem of racial polarization which has torn the South, and the nation, for more than two centuries. "We're going to have to squarely address racial politics again," as the nation did in the 1960s, Dr. Parent says. "The nation needs some sort of healing. This election ... has expanded racial tension." Although many Louisianans predicted that Duke might win the governorship in Saturday's election, former Gov. Edwin Edwards pulled away handily in the final days of the campaign, and eventually won by a landslide, 61 percent to 39 percent. While Duke drew big crowds of white voters, including a large number of upper-income professionals, most Louisianans eventually turned to Mr. Edwards, despite serious misgivings. Edwards, who served three previous terms in the governor's office, was indicted in the 1980s on corruption charges. Although eventually acquitted, his popularity was shattered. In this election, frantic, last-minute pleas from business leaders may have turned the tide against Duke. The business community feared that Duke's election would disrupt the tourist and convention industries, which bring billions of dollars to the state and employ tens of thousands. Voter turnout was phenomenal. Some people waited in two-hour lines to cast ballots. Turnout in some areas of New Orleans was reported at 85 percent, and reached over 78 percent statewide. The election appears to confirm that Americans, who often seem blase about voting, will make great efforts to get to the polls when their ballots will make a genuine difference. The lessons of this election will be sifted for some time. There was never any doubt in Louisiana, even among Duke's opponents, that his political appeal was powerful, and that he had touched a chord with many, if not a majority, of the state's voters. Some media commentators wrote off Duke as merely a racist, a Nazi sympathizer who exploits the darkest elements of the nation's political psyche. However, many of Duke's most politically potent ideas come right out of conservative ideology - such as reducing foreign aid, putting America first, and discouraging illegitimate births. Although President Bush denounced the racial elements of Duke's appeal, Republican officials know that they must handle the Duke phenomenon carefully. As Dr. Black, who teaches at the University of South Carolina, explains it: "Duke represents the same people that the Republicans need to make their large white majorities in the South." Ronald Reagan and George Bush carried the South in 1980, 1984, and 1988 because they won the hearts of the same conservative, working-class Republicans and Democrats who cast ballots for Duke. In 1992, Bush needs the same voters who supported Duke, the same Southerners who at other times have backed conservatives like former Alabama Governor Wallace, or Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson. Black observes: "Republican leaders aren't particularly thrilled with having either Pat Robertson or David Duke in their party. But they need them. Even so, they would prefer Robertson to be sitting in the back of the bus, and Duke riding in the U-Haul attached to the back of the bus." Ronald Walters, a political scientist at Howard University and adviser to the Rev. Jesse Jackson, says the country needs to come to grips with Duke's appeal. "Duke has brought this discussion [about race] out of the kitchens and homes and beer parlors into politics in a very public way." Professor Parent says this election should serve as a wake-up call to address the issues troubling both working-class whites and blacks, particularly the need to improve the economy for both groups of Americans. Parent says both parties, and particularly the Republicans, also need to be more sensitive toward racial issues, and resist exploiting tensions for political purposes.