GOP candidate quits unique La. race Seeks to help defeat former Klan leader

October 05, 1990|By New York Times

ATLANTA -- The Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in Louisiana has pulled out of a primary election as part of an extraordinary Republican effort to promote the victory of the Democratic incumbent, Sen. J. Bennett Johnston Jr., over state Rep. David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader.

The Republican candidate, Ben Bagert, who had been trailing badly in the polls, said yesterday that he was dropping out of the Senate election set for tomorrow.

That sets up what is essentially a two-man race between Johnston and Duke, a Republican who is running under Louisiana's unusual election laws without the party's backing.

The move is aimed at avoiding a runoff election on Nov. 6, which would have been needed if no candidate got 50 percent of the vote tomorrow.

Poll figures have not varied greatly during the race, with Johnston at about 50 percent, Duke about 30 percent, and Bagert struggling to become a factor.

There are also two political unknowns on the ballot.

Republican officials said that with the election imminent and Bagert's chances minimal, it became clear that the only effect he could have by remaining in the race would be to force a runoff between Johnston and Duke.

Duke was never given much chance of winning, but it was thought he could advance his far-right agenda through the publicity he would receive if he was able to force a runoff.

Moreover, Republicans feared that a runoff campaign lasting up to Election Day, with Duke as the party's de facto nominee, would prove a major liability to the party nationally.

Eight Republican senators have already made what appears to be an unprecedented appeal by publicly calling for the election of the Democrat.

"The way to look at it is that we are doing our best to insure the defeat of extremism and bigotry," said Charles Black, chief spokesman for the Republican National Committee, who said Republican officials had discussed the withdrawal with Bagert but had not asked for it. "We'll oppose David Duke no matter who's running against him."

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