David Duke's Weakness

December 27, 1991

The David Duke campaign may well be over before it begins. He has asked that his name not be placed on the Maryland ballot when the state holds its presidential preferential primary March 3. According to his research director, Marc Ellis, this is because Mr. Duke wants to run in the Georgia primary on the same date and in the South Carolina primary March 7.

It is more likely, though, the candidate was ignorant of Maryland Republicanism, and upon learning that its members are not known for extremism, and also learning that only registered Republicans can vote in a presidential primary here, they decided Mr. Duke and his cause would be humiliated. A poll of Maryland Republicans showed Mr. Duke getting only 4 percent of the vote in a three-way race with President Bush and Pat Buchanan.

Mr. Duke is not expected to do well in South Carolina, either. Polls show the president more popular there than in much of the nation, a phenomenon explained in large part by the military tradition among Southerners. The gulf war is still a big plus for George Bush in the South.

Even though South Carolina has an open primary, which would allow disgruntled Democrats to vote for Mr. Duke on the Republican ballot, state party leaders are known for their ability to deliver for their choice. The legacy of Lee Atwater, the support of veteran Sen. Strom Thurmond and, most important when it comes to voter turnout, the organization of Gov. Carroll Campbell, lead journalists and academics specializing in South Carolina politics to predict a very big win for President Bush on March 7.

A former aide to Governor Campbell says, "We can go ahead and repudiate Duke and get this over with once and for all." A crushing defeat in South Carolina would certainly do that.

But Mr. Duke may be crushed before then. If Georgia moves its primary to March 3, which has not been decided, and if Mr. Duke's name is on the ballot, which also has not been decided, he may lose in a landslide. Political experts on the scene foresee such an outcome, even though there, as in South Carolina, Democrats can cross over and vote for Republican candidates. The state has a recent history of rejecting Ku Klux Klan candidates for high office, including home-grown ones.

In 1988, running against a still-competitive Sen. Bob Dole, and a relatively competitive Rep. Jack Kemp and Pat Robertson, George Bush carried every Maryland county, every South Carolina county and every Georgia county. By the evening of March 7 -- three days before Super Tuesday -- David Duke may no longer be a factor or even an irritant in the Republican race for president.

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