Duke ends quest for Republican nomination

April 23, 1992|By John Fairhall | John Fairhall,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON GRL PHOTO — WASHINGTON -- Rejected by voters, David Duke quit the Republican presidential race yesterday and said he would not run as an independent in the fall.

Mr. Duke did not win a single delegate and finished last in Louisiana, his home state, with 9 percent of the primary vote last month.

"I think you have heard the last of him as a political candidate but not as a person involved with political movements," said Bill Moore, a political scientist at the College of Charleston in South Carolina who follows Mr. Duke's career closely.

The expectation that Mr. Duke might exploit discontent with President Bush faded as conservative commentator Patrick J. Buchanan began winning support with a similar message but without Mr. Duke's liabilities of being a past Ku Klux Klan leader and former neo-Nazi.

Analysts said Mr. Duke's prospects in the fall would have been further weakened by the candidacy of H. Ross Perot, the Texas billionaire who is considering running as an independent.

Mr. Duke's diminished political stature was reflected in the small number of reporters who turned out for his withdrawal statement at the National Press Club. A large throng covered his announcement of candidacy there in December.

The erstwhile candidate put the best possible face on his poor primary performance, attributing it to a late start and fund-raising problems rather than voter distaste for his past and his positions.

Mr. Duke, 41, said he would not run for office in the near future but would remain politically active as a speaker and writer.

"At this point I've gone as far as I can go," he said. "I think I've started a ball rolling and started a consensus on the major issues that are before the American people. But I don't see how a third-party effort at this time is really going to heal the country or do very well for the Republican Party.

"I do think the Republican Party is the best hope for the principles I believe in," he said, expressing a loyalty to the GOP that is not reciprocated. Party officials had done their best to disavow Mr. Duke and keep him off Republican presidential ballots.

A former Louisiana state legislator whose term expired in January, Mr. Duke said he would be writing an autobiography, publishing a newsletter and lecturing. He said his underfunded campaign was $20,000 in debt and that he himself was $40,000 in debt because he was unable to work while campaigning.

Though Mr. Bush and national Republican officials had denounced him, Mr. Duke held out a slim possibility of endorsing the president, depending on his campaign platform. He vowed to attend the Republican convention in August as a guest of delegates he said he knows.

He spoke highly of Mr. Perot, terming him a "good alternative" without endorsing him. "Many of the aspects of Ross Perot I agree with. I mean, he seems to be for fair trade rather than free trade, and I certainly agree with that. He's definitely for less government."

Whether Mr. Duke runs for office again could depend on the outcome of congressional redistricting under way in Louisiana.

State legislators who do not want "a district that would be too friendly for David Duke" may not be successful, said John Maginnis, publisher of the Louisiana Political Review. He explained that the legislature is trying to create a new, mostly black district, which would undermine efforts to spread out the anti-Duke minority vote among several districts.

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