David Duke to Seek Livingston's Seat
By Thomas B. Edsall
Duke, a Republican and neo-Nazi sympathizer, declared his plans to run for the seat north of New Orleans almost immediately after Livingston told House colleagues Saturday that he will resign in six months. During the debate over impeachment, and after disclosing marital infidelities, Livingston said he would not assume the House speakership this January, as expected.
Duke has been a major embarrassment to the GOP since winning a Louisiana statehouse seat in 1989. In 1990, he was the Republican Party's nominee in an unsuccessful bid to defeat then-incumbent Sen. J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.). One year later, Duke gave up his legislative seat to run against and beat Republican Gov. Buddy Roemer in the gubernatorial primary. As the GOP nominee, Duke lost the general election to Democrat Edwin W. Edwards.
These contests forced the national and state Republican parties into a defensive posture. GOP officials repudiated Duke at every turn, and many Republican leaders openly endorsed Duke's Democratic opponents. Duke has scared moderate whites away from the GOP in the South, where the party depends on large majorities among white voters to win elections.
Yesterday, the party moved quickly once again to disassociate itself from Duke. Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson declared: "There is no room in the party of Lincoln for a Klansman like David Duke."
Duke's announcement is the latest in what have been a series of Republican problems linked to the impeachment inquiry. After the 1998 elections, in which Republicans stressed the charges against Clinton, the GOP actually lost House seats and House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) was forced to resign.
The impeachment proceedings appear to have sapped strength from the GOP. Last week, the CBS-New York Times poll found that the favorability ratings of the GOP had dropped to their lowest levels in 14 years, 40 percent.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted on Dec. 19 found that 34 percent of those surveyed had an unfavorable impression of congressional Republicans and 25 percent had a favorable impression, and the rest had no opinion; this compared to 33 percent unfavorable and 41 percent favorable on Jan. 31.
There is considerable debate over Duke's credibility in Louisiana, but his presence in the race ensures that much of the national attention on the battle to replace Livingston will focus on a politician whose racial views could further antagonize moderate voters against the GOP.
Duke ran a weak bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 1992. In 1996, he came in fourth in Louisiana's open primary for U.S. Senate. In his 1990 Senate race, examination of the results indicates that Duke beat Johnston in Livingston's district. In the 1991 race for governor, Edwards appeared to have defeated Duke in the district.
Under Louisiana's unique election law, Democrats and Republicans run in the same primary. If no one gets 50 percent, the top two have a runoff. The more candidates there are, the better Duke's chances of making the runoff.
"Our problem," said a GOP activist in Louisiana, is that "we have to oppose him. When we do, we look like bullies, and he just picks up support."
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