Nazi footage featured in all-out media blitz against David Duke Saturation outpaces all previous efforts

November 15, 1991|By Paul West | Paul West,Sun Staff Correspondent

NEW ORLEANS -- Even in an age of negative politics, there's never been anything like this.

An all-out attack campaign against former Klansman and neo-Nazi David Duke is clogging the TV and radio airwaves over Louisiana in the closing days of the governor's race.

Virtually around the clock, anti-Duke ads spell out the frightening economic and social consequences of a Duke victory in tomorrow's runoff against Democratic former Gov. Edwin W. Edwards.

Among the dire predictions: tens of thousands of jobs lost, a halt to educational improvements for an entire generation of children and an image problem to rival, well, Nazi Germany's.

Political veterans, who thought they'd seen everything modern media warfare has to offer, are agog over the sheer megatonnage of the anti-Duke barrage.

"It has to be the largest single advertising buy ever in American politics against one person," says Raymond Strother, a Washington-based media consultant and Louisiana native. "There's so much of it. I don't see how he could withstand it."

"I don't think that in the history of American politics there's been anything like this, even in presidential races," agrees Gus Weill, a Baton Rouge, La., media consultant. "They've thrown the kitchen sink at him."

Actually, the kitchen sink is one of the few things that hasn't been hurled. But sports heroes, a jazz great and Adolf Hitler have been.

A check of logs at the three major network TV affiliates in New Orleans, the state's largest media market, hints at the scope of the ad blitz, estimated to cost at least $1.5 million to $2 million statewide, or about three times what Mr. Duke will spend.

The anti-Duke ads are running at a rate of about 4,000 gross rating points a week, or roughly four times the normal saturation buy in a political campaign here.

The bombardment seems to be having little, if any, impact on Mr. Duke's solid support from a majority of the state's white voters, polls show. Mr. Duke predicts that the attack will generate a sympathy backlash for him, and some Democrats worry about overkill.

But the negative campaign appears to be hurting the 41-year-old Republican candidate among the swing voters he needs in order to win the runoff -- mainly upscale suburbanites who backed Republican Gov. Charles E. "Buddy" Roemer III, the loser in last month's primary.

A statewide poll this week showed that unfavorable impressions of Mr. Duke have risen 6 percentage points among white voters since the attack ads began. The survey, by Mason-Dixon Opinion Research of Columbia, Md., also found a significant increase in the number of voters who now say that Louisiana's future and its image are the most important issues in the governor's race.

The anti-Duke campaign has helped feed an atmosphere of fear and foreboding that pervades this Gulf Coast state as the campaign comes to an end. A widely held belief among ordinary Louisianans is that Mr. Duke, if elected, would become a prime target for an assassin.

The state's lieutenant governor, Paul Hardy, has even run a commercial that attempts to exploit that concern. His ad shows newspaper clippings about heightened security in the governor's race and urges voters in these "dangerous times" to think seriously about their next lieutenant governor, who would take over if the governor became incapacitated.

Mr. Duke's history of involvement with hate groups like the Klan and the American Nazi movement has provided a wealth of ammunition for the negative campaign, which, by definition, focuses on his shortcomings, rather than directly promoting his Democratic opponent.

As arresting as the ubiquity of the anti-Duke commercials is their content, which conveys blunt messages seldom, if ever, heard in a major U.S. political race.

In one ad, paid for by the state Democratic Party, the head of the Louisiana National Guard is shown in full dress regalia bemoaning the "disgrace" that would come from having "a Nazi sympathizer" like Mr. Duke as commander-in-chief of the state militia.

Another party-sponsored spot uses mordant humor to mock Mr. Duke's neo-Nazi connections.

While an announcer states that Mr. Duke sold Nazi books and tapes from his legislative office as recently as 1989, grainy, black-and-white film footage of goose-stepping Nazi soldiers flickers across the TV screen. Shouts of "Sieg Heil" are then heard, as a photograph appears of Hitler giving the fascist salute. The sarcastic tag line: "Vote for Duke. Create a Fuehrer."

Another ad that also employs humor to soften the blow shows an actor dressed as a leering, cowboy-hatted Texan with a toothpick in his teeth. The message: Electing Mr. Duke will drive at least 45,000 Louisiana jobs to neighboring Texas and other states.

While some of the anti-Duke spots have been coordinated by theEdwards campaign, others are independent efforts that reflect the fears of some of the most powerful members of the state's business and political establishment.

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