Ga. GOP officials seek to bar Duke from March presidential primary ballot

December 17, 1991|By Paul West | Paul West,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Joining a national Republican drive to stop David Duke's presidential candidacy, Georgia Republican Party officials acted yesterday to strike the former Klansman's name from the ballot for their state's presidential primary in March.

The anti-Duke campaign, strongly encouraged by the Republican National Committee in Washington, is unlikely to prevent Mr. Duke from challenging President Bush in most states. But it could stop him in several and slow his efforts in others.

Last week, GOP officials in Massachusetts succeeded, at least temporarily, in barring Mr. Duke's candidacy in that state, and similar efforts are under way elsewhere, including Florida and Wisconsin.

Republican officials also are taking steps to rewrite primary rules in some states where Mr. Duke is expected to be on the ballot, including Michigan and possibly Alabama, to make it more difficult for Mr. Duke to win delegates to next summer's Republican National Convention.

"We don't consider Duke one of us," said Norm Cummings, the political director of the Republican National Committee. Although it is up to the parties in individual states to take steps to block the Duke campaign, he said, "we certainly aren't discouraging it."

The Georgia primary had been expected to be the first major Duke-Bush showdown in the South if the primary there was moved up one week to March 3, as Democratic leaders have proposed. Mr. Duke was thought to have a chance to make a strong showing, since Democrats and independents are permitted to vote in Georgia's open Republican primary.

But state GOP officials ordered Mr. Duke's name removed from the ballot during a meeting yesterday in Atlanta with Secretary of State Max Cleland, a Democrat.

"Duke is not a member of the Republican Party and, therefore, does not meet the requirements of Georgia law for placement on our party's presidential primary ballot," Georgia Republican Chairman Alec Poitevint said in a statement. "There is no room for disciples of Hitler on the Republican presidential ballot."

The Georgia chairman's two-page statement and an accompanying one-page press release made a dozen references to Mr. Duke's former membership in the American Nazi Party and Nazism but omitted any mention of his past connection to the Ku Klux Klan.

David Shafer, executive director of the Georgia Republican Party, said he could not explain the omission.

Mr. Duke, a former Klan grand wizard, changed his party affiliation from Democratic to Republican in 1988 and was elected to the Louisiana legislature as a Republican the following year.

"Apparently, the Republican Party in Georgia is running a little bit scared," said Marc Ellis, a Duke spokesman. The candidate will go to court if necessary to try to gain access to the Georgia ballot, he said.

Unless Mr. Duke can reverse the Georgia decision, his first primary states in 1992 are likely to be Maryland and possibly Colorado, which vote March 3.

Maryland Republicans have said they are powerless to prevent Mr. Duke from running in the state because Secretary of State Winfield M. Kelly Jr., a Democrat, has announced his intention to put him on the primary ballot.

But GOP leaders in Maryland plan to deny Mr. Duke the use of state party facilities and other courtesies usually extended to Republican presidential candidates.

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