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    Send your questions about campaigns and elections.
    The Hazards of Duke

    By Ken Rudin
    Special to
    Friday, April 9, 1999

    Question: What are David Duke's chances in Louisiana's special congressional election to replace Bob Livingston? And is his new book enlightening as to his true colors? – Laurel G. Wimbish, Corpus Christi, Tex.

    Some Republicans see former representative Treen as their best hope to keep Duke out of Congress. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
    Answer: Former Klan leader David Duke is running in the special May 1 open primary to succeed once-Speaker-designate Bob Livingston. Some say that there is a hidden Duke vote that will show up at the polls on primary day, that Duke's notoriety masks his true strength in voter surveys in Louisiana's 1st Congressional District. I don't buy it. Yes, Duke did very well in his 1990 Senate bid against then-incumbent J. Bennett Johnston (D), and he surprised the experts by making it into the 1991 gubernatorial runoff. But he's become a fringe figure since then, and his 15 minutes are nearly exhausted.

    In addition, his new book, "My Awakening," dispels the notion that he may have mellowed his racial rhetoric. Theoretically, should the votes be spread evenly among the five or so mainstream candidates who are running, Duke could make it into the May 29 runoff. But I expect support to coalesce around a Republican frontrunner well before then.

    Most polls show that former governor Dave Treen (R), who entered the fray to stop Duke, is the frontrunner in this Republican district. Many key political figures are working for him, either publicly or behind the scenes. But Treen is 70 years old, and has been out of office since being ousted as governor by Edwin Edwards in 1983. Treen's resume also includes four successful runs for the House from the 3rd District starting in 1972, as well as three unsuccessful bids against the late Rep. Hale Boggs (D) in the 2nd District, the first one coming in 1962. Treen has been around for a long time.

    While I concur with reports that Treen is ahead, I would not be surprised if he fades down the stretch. Should that happen, Republican candidates such as ophthalmologist Monica Monica (only in America), state Rep. David Vitter, and minor-league baseball team owner Rob Couhig will only be too happy to pick up his supporters. TV ads have been up for quite some time, with most of the spending coming from Monica and Couhig. The leading Democrat in this "jungle primary," where everyone runs on the same ballot regardless of party, is state Rep. Bill Strain.

    Question: Why do you suppose the mainstream media has been so lackluster in pursuing the recently uncovered affiliation between Sen. Trent Lott and Congressman Bob Barr and the pro-segregationist Conservative Citizens Council? Particularly since the issue isn't just racist ideology, but lying about one's racist ideology. As we all know, these two politicians were at the head of the Republican bandwagon whose official mantra vis-a-vis the Clinton-Lewinsky affair was that "it's not about sex, it's about perjury." Given this blatant hypocrisy, why aren't Lott and Barr being held more accountable than they have been? – Richard Howard, Seattle, Wash.

    Answer: The way I see it, the roles of Lott and Barr are quite different. Barr says he was asked to speak to the organization and only later learned of the Conservative Citizens Council's racial views. He has since denounced the group. If you say Barr should have known better, then you should include other politicians who have spoken to the group, including Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore, a Democrat. In addition, Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), in the early 1980s (well before he was part of the House leadership), spoke to a St. Louis organization called the "Metro South Citizens Council" -- an anti-busing group that has been called a precursor to the CCC. Gephardt later said he was not aware of any racist positions held by Metro South.

    Lott will not talk about his relationship with CCC officials, other than to deny any "firsthand knowledge" of the group's positions at the time he spoke before it. Lott grew up in an era of segregation, worked for a segregationist congressman and has an uncle who is a CCC member (and who in fact put Lott on the CCC membership rolls as an "honorary member"). Those familiar with Lott or life in Mississippi at the time say that the Senate majority leader is being disingenuous in claiming ignorance.

    I wouldn't call the media's response to the story "lackluster." Many outlets swarmed into Mississippi looking for incendiary information. But they haven't found anything to their liking. Until they do, and as long as Lott won't talk, there's not much more that can be said.

    Post Script: By the way, in last week's column, I listed all the Web sites for the 2000 presidential candidates. Many readers were amused that Vice President Gore's site was missing. Roderic McGahren of Rowayton, Conn., wrote, "I find it very funny that you list Gore with no Web site! I thought Gore invented the Internet? It is very ironic isn't it?" And Robert Dodds added, "The father of the Internet is the only candidate without a Web site???"

    Gore finally launched his Web site this week. The Associated Press reported that almost immediately, the vice president "nearly stumbled over the nettlesome problem of Internet privacy." Apparently the site's "Just for Kids" section asked children for their names and e-mail addresses, a practice which will soon be outlawed on some Internet sites, following legislation passed by Congress last year. The Gore campaign removed the questions just hours before the site went up. For his part, Gore described his site as "interactive, informative, and inclusive; kid-friendly, easy-to-use, and functional."

    The URL for the Gore site is The List in last week's column has been updated with a link to it and to Republican Gary Bauer's site:

    Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin:

    Ken Rudin, political editor at National Public Radio, is also the creator of's ScuttleButton contest.

    © Copyright 1999 Ken Rudin

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