Republican James Meredith, a one-time black civil rights hero whose most recent notoriety came when he was hired and then let go from the staff of Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), is campaigning for the presidency and also would like to help former Ku Klux Klansman David Duke become governor of Louisiana.

On April 9, Meredith met with Duke, who is a Republican state representative, and some of Duke's supporters in New Orleans.

"If they want me to join their campaign, I will join their campaign," Meredith said. "If they don't want me to join their campaign, I won't join. I want him to win. In other words, I want to do anything I can to make David Duke the next governor of Louisiana."

Meredith, who said the public perception of Duke as a racist is wrong, said he supports Duke because his campaign best suits the Meredith agenda, which is to challenge the Eastern liberal Republican establishment that includes President Bush. To further that agenda, Meredith launched his presidential campaign last month in Jackson, Miss.

Meredith's supportive statements and his meeting with Duke have yet to yield a job offer. Duke aides have called Meredith too outspoken and have advised Duke not to hire him, Meredith said.

Glenn Montecino, Duke's legislative assistant, described Duke and Meredith as "old friends." Asked if Meredith would be joining the campaign, he said, "That remains to be seen."

Meredith, 57, who in 1962 was the first black to integrate the University of Mississippi, leftthe Helms's staff in January. He said he was "terminated" because he was viewed as being an obstruction to Helms's work on Capitol Hill. Helms's office did not return repeated calls seeking comment.

Meredith now works as "outreach chairman" for the San Diego County Republican Party to expand the party base to groups traditionally left out.