Undaunted by his landslide defeat in Louisiana’s gubernatorial race, former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke on Monday announced formation of a committee to explore his prospects for a Republican presidential bid.
Duke, whose gubernatorial candidacy was disavowed by GOP leaders across the country--including President Bush--said he will decide whether to run within 30 days.
In his first news conference since his loss Saturday to Democrat Edwin W. Edwards, Duke said, “I’m not planning to run for President of the United States. But as of today, I’ve authorized and permitted an exploratory committee to be formed to explore the possibility of entering a number of Republican primaries.”
He added that the least such a campaign by him could accomplish would be “to make George Bush--or cause George Bush--to adhere to the principles of the (Republican) Party and stop the drift to the left that we’ve had for so long.”
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater responded: “He couldn’t win in Louisiana. We don’t see him winning anywhere else.”
Asked whether a Duke candidacy could pose a problem for Bush, Fitzwater said: “I don’t think so. It just means we’ve got to continue to reiterate our position, that (Duke) stands for racism and bigotry and Nazism and has no place in the political process.”
Fitzwater added, “We wouldn’t want to see him run anywhere. We don’t think he should be elected or should be involved in politics.”
Republican National Committee spokesman Gary Koops similarly distanced the party from Duke, saying: “The RNC has always condemned the politics of David Duke. We have never considered him a Republican and never will.”
Bush had said before Saturday’s election that if he lived in Louisiana, he would vote for Edwards, a three-term former governor whose last term was tainted by two federal racketeering trials. The first ended in a mistrial and the second in acquittal.
At his Monday news conference, Duke said, “As you may well imagine, I feel that George Bush betrayed the conservative Republican position here in Louisiana. To support a liberal Democrat like Edwin Edwards is a betrayal of every Republican in our state and around the country.”
And in a possible preview of a campaign issue he would raise against Bush, Duke denounced the President’s recent agreement to sign a civil rights bill designed to make it easier for employees to win anti-discrimination lawsuits. Duke called the legislation a “civil wrongs act--an act which will certainly cause quotas” in hiring.
Duke said that if he decides to run for President, he likely would forgo entering New Hampshire’s Feb. 18 primary. Said Duke: “I’d probably hold off and wait for some of the other states. I’d go to the same kinds of states that George Wallace won.”
Wallace, the former governor of Alabama who gained national attention for opposing integration, ran consistently well in many Southern and border states during his several presidential campaigns.
Duke also said he would like to see conservative political commentator Patrick Buchanan enter the GOP presidential contest. Reports surfaced last week that Buchanan may challenge Bush.
Said Duke: “That would be more effective, perhaps, to get a new nominee for the Republican Party. I think Bush is in very big trouble.”
In dissecting his 61%-39% loss to Edwards, Duke blamed “economic blackmail” by companies and convention groups that threatened to steer clear of Louisiana if he were elected and vote-buying by the Edwards campaign, particularly among blacks.
Duke said, “I do believe tens of thousands of votes were bought in this election.”
Responding to that allegation, Edwards campaign manager Bob d’Hemecourt said, “You know David Duke is lying when his lips move.”