Based on what he saw of David Duke's unsuccessful campaign for governor of Louisiana, pollster J. Bradford Coker doesn't see much hope for the ex-Klansman in next year's Maryland Republican presidential primary.
"The profile of Republican voters in Maryland is very different from the types of people he has been attracting in Louisiana," Coker said. "For example, in Louisiana, only 13 percent of the people there went to college . . . Maryland's almost the opposite of that."
"I don't see Duke having much of an impact in primaries anywhere," and in Maryland "it's going to be even more minimal," Coker predicted.
Coker is president of Mason-Dixon Opinion Research Inc., a Columbia-based firm that did extensive polling in Louisiana during Duke's unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign this fall.
Duke, a Louisiana state legislator and former Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi leader, has rebounded from that defeat by announcing a nationwide presidential campaign yesterday. He listed Maryland among the states he intends to target.
Duke's campaign research chief, Marc Ellis, said the candidate will form an organization in Maryland, whose primary is March 3.
"We won't be able to compete with George Bush in setting up a massive money-driven organization, but we will have state grass roots support and David will appear in the states that he runs in," Ellis said.
Ellis said Maryland's "conservative population" will respond to Duke's candidacy. "We think the majority of people in Maryland agree with David on the issues."
Duke's candidacy makes Maryland Republican officials uncomfortable, but they insist he won't do well.
"This guy is a Nazi Klansman," said Kevin Igoe, executive director of the state party. "He is not welcome in Maryland. He is certainly not welcome in this Republican Party. The mere fact that he calls himself Republican does not make him one."
"I trust the good judgment of the people of Maryland and the Republicans of Maryland to reject ideas, to reject a campaign that is characterized by racism and fear," Igoe said, discounting Duke's appeal.
Veteran politicians remember how George Wallace, the onetime segregationist and Alabama governor, won the Maryland Democratic presidential primary in 1972 with a racially tinged campaign. Coker warns against drawing a parallel, however.
"Wallace ran in the Democratic primary, not the Republican primary. Second, Wallace won in Maryland because he was shot the day before and there was sort of a sympathy vote, I believe," Coker said, referring to the attempted assassination of Wallace during a campaign stop in Laurel.
"He'll get some protest votes," Coker said of Duke, "and he'll get some votes playing the racial game, race baiting. But if he could not win in Louisiana . . . his ability to win anywhere else is zilch."
If Duke's entrance into Maryland politics is making anyone happy, it's Nathan Landow, chairman of the state Democratic Party. Like national party officials, he's hoping Duke's embrace of the Republican Party will taint the GOP in voters' eyes.
"People will turn out in the Democratic primary because David Duke is on that Republican ballot," Landow said. "Republicans will be saddled with an insurmountable problem that will have a devastating effect throughout this country. And I guarantee you that they are all losing sleep trying to figure out a way to overcome David Duke."