Duke optimistic, despite his likely failure at polls Buchanan attracting potential supporters

March 06, 1992|By John Fairhall | John Fairhall,Staff Writer

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Overshadowed by Patrick J. Buchanan, David Duke's Republican presidential campaign seems on the verge of flunking its first test, the South Carolina primary tomorrow.

He received 2 percent in a poll last week that showed President Bush leading Mr. Buchanan 78 percent to 15 percent.

Though Mr. Duke says he will do well, University of South Carolina political scientist Blease Graham predicted yesterday that his percentage wouldn't rise above "single digits, and maybe even low single digits."

Mr. Duke faces problems in other states as well. He's on the ballot in just 15 states, having been kept off in some states by hostile Republican officials. He has little money, and his potential strength is being drained by Mr. Buchanan.

Both men appeal to anti-Bush voters, but Mr. Buchanan isn't handicapped as Mr. Duke is by past involvement in Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi activities.

And in South Carolina, Mr. Buchanan is seen as more palatable, particularly to middle-class voters.

"It's a very conservative state but it's not a radical state. The appeal of the David Duke message is really very limited in South Carolina," Mr. Graham said.

"On the other hand, the middle-class protest appeal that Buchanan is making is going to be a much more popular protest appeal."

Mr. Duke acknowledges the problem caused by Mr. Buchanan. But says he's a better fit for southern voters than his opponent, who grew up in Washington.

"I like Buchanan as well. I just think in the South I have a betterchance than he does," Mr. Duke said, citing his identification with issues like "affirmative action, forced busing" that he says interest people here.

Mr. Duke says he'll outperform the polls as he often did in Louisiana when he won election to the Legislature and ran for U.S. Senate and governor.

"If George Bush was surprised by what happened in New Hampshire, he's going to be shocked by what happens in South Carolina," he said at a rally Wednesday at the Charleston Visitors' Center.

But the small crowd of fewer than 100 people -- a far cry from the audiences he often drew in Louisiana -- belied his prediction.

Mr. Duke's South Carolina coordinator, William Carter, admits the campaign has been hampered by a lack of money. He also complains that the news media are ignoring Mr. Duke, though news accounts of Mr. Duke's three-day visit this week suggest otherwise.

His campaign has raised $69,000 nationally, not enough to qualify for federal matching funds, according to Mr. Duke's latest reports to the Federal Election Commission. Even so, Mr. Carter says the campaign is airing a half-hour advertisement 10 times on local television stations. He also claims to have distributed 49,000 copies of an eight-page tabloid newspaper that bears a picture of Mr. Duke on the cover, sandwiched between these words:

"You've heard what his enemies say about him . . . Now, take a closer look at the real David Duke."

The newspaper lists his campaign positions. He wants strict quotas on imports, elimination of the current tax system in favor of a 10 percent flat tax on income, drug testing of welfare recipients, a requirement that able-bodied recipients work, an end to illegal immigration and an end to programs that give minorities advantages in obtaining contracts, jobs and scholarships.

Many of these positions are embraced by Mr. Buchanan and Mr. Bush, which irritates and pleases Mr. Duke. "I've paved the way for Patrick Buchanan," he said.

But in his campaign speeches, Mr. Duke returns to the same racially colored appeal he used in Louisiana. He mines resentment against welfare and hostility toward blacks, while urging white Christians to defend their heritage.

There's a double standard, he asserted at the rally, that allows only blacks to stand up for their rights.

He brought up welfare repeatedly, portraying recipients as drug users who have illegitimate children at the expense of taxpayers who can't afford to raise and educate their own families.

"But if anybody starts talking about making requirements for welfare recipients to be responsible and act responsibly, oh, that's racism, or that's oppression: You're being insensitive," he said.

The audience applauded frequently and he moved confidently through the small crowd, a veteran campaigner dressed well in a dark pin-stripe suit and black loafers.

His supporters were white people of varying ages.

"The message I like most about him is welfare -- instead of welfare, workfare," said Charlie Stephens, a retired paper mill worker. "I went to work when I was 14 years old. I put myself through college twice. I've never had nobody give me nothing except a hard time."

Like several other Duke supporters interviewed, he said he liked Pat Buchanan and would support him if gets the nomination. Still, he prefers Mr. Duke.

Duke vs. Buchanan

David Duke and Patrick J. Buchanan are both on the Republican ballot, along with President Bush, in the following presidential primaries:

March 7.. .. .. .. .. South Carolina

March 10.. .. .. .. .. Louisiana

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. . Massachusetts

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. . Mississippi

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. . Oklahoma

vTC

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. . Rhode Island

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. . Tennessee

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. . Texas

March 17.. .. .. .. .. Michigan

March 24.. .. .. .. .. Connecticut

April 7.. .. .. .. ... Kansas

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. . Wisconsin

May 19.. .. .. .. .. . Oregon

Mr. Duke is petitioning to get on the GOP ballot in Alabama and New Jersey and will appear on the ballot in California if his campaign qualifies for federal matching funds.

Mr. Buchanan is expected to be on the GOP ballot in every state except Kentucky and New Mexico, where he is continuing to contest his exclusion.

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