Don't count Duke out

December 27, 1991

Republicans gamely speak of David Duke as a pariah, but they know that the embarrassing fact is that he is their bastard child -- descended directly from Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and, yes, George Bush in their furtive encounters in the racist swamps of the South. So when the former Kluxer and Nazi-sympathizer chose to remove himself from the Maryland presidential primary, Republicans publicly applauded -- and, we suspect, privately regretted it.

If that seems a contradiction, the answer is simple. As our intrepid political analyst Frank DeFilippo cogently argued in his column last week, Maryland just isn't the right state for David Duke. Maryland being a state where voters aren't permitted to cross party lines in the primary, the number of Republicans who vote in state primaries is extremely small. In addition to being a narrow segment, Republican voters are also a sophisticated segment of the Maryland population.

Patrick Buchanan is already on the ballot to give Maryland Republicans of right-wing persuasion a respectable alternative to George Bush. Duke's voters, by contrast, tend to be blue-collar Democrats -- the old George Wallace constituency, so to speak -- who can't cross over and vote in the Republican primary.

So the deck was stacked against Duke in Maryland. Had he run here he would have gotten an embarrassingly small vote; Sen. John Cade was honest enough to lament that it would have been great fun "burying" Duke in Maryland. But the problem is, Duke is smart enough to recognize a trap when he sees one, and he wasn't about to come to his own funeral.

On the other hand, there is a mortal fear among Republicans that Duke will somehow mount a third-party campaign as George Wallace did in 1968. In the general election of 1992, crossing party lines will be quite permissible. The upshot will be that a lot of disaffected Democrats who have been voting for Republican presidential candidates since Goldwater just might vote for Duke. If enough did so in a close election, they could deprive Bush of the votes he needed to carry the state -- and tilt the state to the Democratic presidential candidate with a mere plurality rather than a majority of the vote.

To illustrate, let's look at the 1968 presidential race, in which Hubert Humphrey won Maryland by 538,310 to Richard Nixon's 517,995 and George Wallace's 178,734. Subsequent analyses showed that, nationwide, Wallace took five votes from Nixon for every two he took from Humphrey. So in Maryland, without Wallace in the picture, Nixon should have carried the state by the comfortable margin of 645,662 votes to Humphrey's 589,377.

Their protestations notwithstanding, Maryland Republicans would far prefer to have had Duke running in the Republican primary than in the general election.

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