Edwards Candidacy against David Duke in Louisiana governor’s race


Elections are crucial as they keep the capacity of building public images. These images can be true as well as false and these images can bring disrepute as well as respect for the candidates. Edwin Edwards and David Duke fought against each other for the post of governor, which resulted I Edwards’ success and Duke’s disrepute. Edwards used a number of tactics for defeating Duke, but there were many supportive figures who helped Edwards journeying towards becoming a fourth time governor of Louisiana. Attaining such a high position is not easy and requires much struggle and political understanding and Edwards was successful because of understanding all these. He used Duke’s background racism, Nazism and his relationships with people and organizations previously to prove Duke incapable for the post of governor. Edwards himself was not flawless as he faced offensive changes for racketeering financial organizations, gambling and womanizing, but his campaign’s bringing out the flaws in Duke with so much influence, suppressed his flaws and highlighted Duke’s. This paper will highlight Edwards’ tactics to defeat Duke in Louisiana governor’s race along with other factors that complimented his struggle towards disapproving Duke.

The election for the governor’s positioning in 1991 in Louisiana ended in the victory of Edwin Edwards. The contender David Duke lost the election based on voters’ discontentment, race issues and Duke’s past associations. Edwards had a background in the governorship as he was elected three times for the post of governor. The percentage results indicated that there were 61% votes for Edwards against 39% votes for Duke. Edwards got total number of 1,061,233 votes against Duke’s 681,278 votes. Duke’s persona was enough criticized and rebuked throughout the election campaign based on his past connection to Ku Klux Klan and Nazi sympathies while the elected governor was also not free of faults as he was marred by federal swindling accusations against him (Brownstein).

Louisiana has undergone a long lasting appeal of racist politics. David Duke was regarded as one of the best acknowledged racists in American history. He had been affiliated with reputed organizations of Ku Klux Klan and the National Association for the Advancement of White People. In addition, he had shown sympathetic behavior towards Nazis. All these background features of the competitor made him to be defeated because Edwards used all these background features to injure Duke’s reputation in his election campaign (Chin 385).

Edwards faced numerous accusations of political and economical offences and in his previous governorship lost support of significant people. However, with his candidature against competitor David Duke, he gained a dignified and well reputed status against the white supremacist status of Duke. Edwards’ election campaign was supported by many other coalition forces conflicting Duke’s standing. There were massive third party advertising in the whole state and Edwards’ persona was portrayed and presented as overly pleasant (Edley, et al 8).

In the initial phases of primary election, the tracking polls gave recommendations about Duke’s victory as Edwards did not have a well liked status for “good-government, fiscally conservative, upscale Republicans and conservative Democrats who would decide this election” (Powell). It was generally thought that many governmental personas would not use their votes if they did not vote for Duke. However, there was some general understanding that Duke would win based on his white racial backing (Powell).

Dave Treen’s name and participation in the Louisiana politics cannot be ignored as he played a crucial role in Duke’s disrepute and Edwards’ electiveness as a fourth time governor. Treen showed utmost interest in evaluating the background of David Duke as he analyzed all available details and records regarding Duke. After his analysis, he provided indisputable proofs against Duke for showing the voters the disliked figure of Duke as he informed, “Duke had been a draft dodger, that Duke was a riot-fomenting lawbreaker, that he was a habitual tax delinquent — and that he was still a Nazi” (Hillyer). For authenticity of his claims, Treen presented transcriptions and audio tapes related to his mentioned claims. He was quite vocal in his opposition of Duke as he regarded Duke quite unreliable, opportunist and a liar who can twist the truth and explanations in his own favor to gain more votes (Hillyer).  He even talked to voters to ask them to vote against Duke in order to save themselves from his governorship as he said,

“It is my judgment that David Duke must be defeated. He can’t be defeated by voters staying at home out of disaffection for both candidates for governor.… There are but two names on the ballot: David Duke and Edwin Edwards. To defeat David Duke, one must vote for Edwin Edwards. That’s what I will do.” (Hillyer)

After these accusations and open opposition of Duke, the national media initiated bothering Duke’s repute and stature. Edwards, himself, regarded Treen’s reviewing and accusations as a corner stone for his election struggle as he exclaimed, “the most important blessing came from Dave Treen” (Hillyer). His endorsement mattered a lot and effected futuristic decision making of voters.

Edwards in his speech on television devised his words in such a manner that took away Duke’s chances of being a governor. He compared all of his good works against Duke’s bad works. He blamed on Duke for attacking him and others for twenty years and with the election posing not to attack but serve the people (Bridges 229). He said,

“When David Duke was burning crosses and scaring people, I was building hospitals to heal them. When he was parading in a Nazi uniform to intimidate our citizens, I was in National Guard uniform bringing relief to flood and hurricane victims. When he was selling Nazi hate literature as late as 1989 in his legislative office, I was providing free textbooks for the children of this state. When he was writing porno books, I was signing anti-pornographic legislation” (Bridges 229). 

The voters were given a terrifying picture of Duke ready to injure their future and Louisiana. Edwards also accused Duke to threaten Louisiana and its people by encouraging the notions of separation, division, racism and hate. His well devised words were to attract black electorate to vote against Duke based on his ideas of racism, division and separation (Bridges 229-230). Duke’s status as a Nazi supporter and racist was endorsed.

The black voters found Duke contestable to their own beliefs and values not because of his Nazi status or the images of the Holocaust put forward by LCARN, but because of their own background of “segregation and disfranchisement” (Powell). Like the black electorate, white population of Louisiana also joined the campaign’s fervor. Many of the Roemeristas—the followers of Governor Buddy Roemer start reaching their neighbors and communicating their uneasiness regarding Duke’s election. The Roemeristas were educated and fashionable people of the state and their concern was quite communicable (Powell). Regarding the morality of the situation, the volunteers grew rapidly and as per Jim Carvin, the political consultant, this campaign was unlike anyone as the volunteers multiplied rapidly swelling the figure to such a number that the adjustment of the volunteers in the campaign became questionable for the administrators (Powell).  The public support was unprecedented. Powell reported that “the supply of yard signs and campaign literature was quickly exhausted, and there weren’t enough trucks to handle the mushrooming sign crews”. There were voluntary contributions for making human billboards along public roads. The people held “placards spelling out “NO NAZI DUKKKES! HONK,” drawing middle-finger salutes from Duke supporters returning from a New Orleans Saints football game” (Powell). People showed passionate acceptance for Edwards not because of his love, but because of hatred towards Duke and his widely spread reputation of being a racist and Nazi sympathizer.

The question of race that was settled in the civil rights movement reemerged in the 1991 Louisiana elections. Race was a dominant issue. The legitimized segregation and white domination on politics that was long suppressed was brought to the forefront. The black vote was quite crucial even for the white competitors. Edwards won black voters support extensively in his previous as well as 1991 elections (Fairclough 463-465). David Duke was accepted as a racial extremist and his selection as a candidate for the post of governor was an alarming situation for the blacks. The inequalities and divisions forming linkage between black and white population were mirrored in Duke’s candidature (Fairclough 468). The issue of race brought disrepute and failure for Duke, but the coded racism depicted by the supporters of Duke presented the undercurrents of racist beliefs of white voters.

Duke’s association with the National Association for the Advancement of White People (NAAWP), that advertised Nazi and racist literature and newsletters targeting black population, made him a racist figure (Jamieson 88). With his elected status as governor of Louisiana, the voters were threatened that he would eliminate and stop many welfare programs for minority groups, take biased decisions and impose additional taxes. Duke condemned Black voter registration encouraged by Edwards and used stereotypical remarks for them. Edwards used Duke’s past as a tool to blame him for every historical past doing, however, Duke was continuously tolerant and presented himself as if he had left everything, his Nazi behaviors and backing, his racism and his hate literature (Jamieson 88-91).

The organizational chiefs and other professionals were quite concerned in relation to their financial self-preservation. They regarded Duke’s governorship as a downfall of the state and economy due to which, they sent personalized messages of cautions to their employees and customers. Businessmen like Jim Bob Moffett (CEO of Freeport McMoRan, New Orleans) and David Dixon (New Orleans Businessman) regarded Duke’s elected status as a ruination of the industry. Dixon ran television ads costing him $50,000 to inform the public about Duke’s elected impact on the convention industry (Powell). Duke’s fraudulent status and moral deformities were spread and the public polls reported in adverse implication for Louisiana based on Duke’s election.

Edwards was supported by third party factors such as “state party and independent groups” and the advertising campaigns condemning Duke and his policies were continuously underway (Edley, et al 23). For example, the Louisiana Coalition against Racism and Nazism (LCARN) gave advertisements with compiled illustrations of “Duke in Nazi regalia with a voiceover of various racist statements, including, “You can call me a Nazi if you wish,” and fading to an image of Hitler.” (Edley, et al 23)

For injuring Duke’s image, a lot of expenditure was there. Duke’s Nazi status was endorsed by a continuous struggle by the coalition parties and expenditure of millions of dollars. LCARN “fed stories to the media, prepared resource packets, deconstructed the Nazi racial theories behind his antiwelfare rhetoric, ran newspaper and television ads, did the spin” (Powell).

Kirby Newberger, the stockbroker created a bumper sticker with the caption, “Vote for the Crook. It’s Important” that gained enough fame. The slogan written on the bumper sticker was quite crucial because it stood for everything erroneous with Louisiana politics. It was developed to assist voters in voting for Edwards. Newberger was worried about stay at home Roemeristas who thought not to cast their votes on the Election Day. The sticker was printed on orders as well (Powell). Based on Newberger’s devotion to the election campaign, Edwards asked for a dozen of bumper stickers and he drove them in his car that seemed disgusting as well as humorous to the viewers. The sticker’s slogan pointed that, “It was Louisiana outrageous, another example of the fix we’ve gotten ourselves into without the possibility of graceful exit.” (Powell)

The Times-Picayune had a lifelong policy of not publishing letters in support of or opposition of political competitors during election campaigns. However, this policy was deferred to during the campaign as a “Reader’s Response” page was included with small gaps showing transcripts of voters about Duke and Edwards. According to the editor, readers depicted a splendid response rate because the received letters were many in number (Powell).

In the television interviews, Duke maintained his demeanor as a composed person as his “tone was earnest, his demeanor restrained, his voice modulated, his language polite and filled with “Sir” and “Ma’am”” (Jamieson 155). He was in no way compatible to his Hitler type repute. However, LCARN published full page ads showing Duke’s previous and current photos for the voters to see the difference. The headlines for the pictures were like “Some Change is Only Skin Deep” with print ad as “He changed his face. He changed his political image. But he can’t change the truth” (Jamieson 156). His change was not regarded as a change, but a false representation of his true self only.

Edwards’ election campaign was accompanied by anti-Duke movement campaign. The anti-Duke movement collected millions of dollars that was only possible for famous well liked leaders. Even, the television contained warning ads to such an extent that no television watcher could ignore those ads (Bridges 230). Money being raised for the movement was not from Louisiana only but from the whole United States. If Duke’s supporters paid $5 to $15 individually for aiding his campaign, his opponents paid $1000, which was a huge step. Duke was targeted by “not only Edwards, businessmen, Louisiana Coalition against Racism and Nazism, and the state’s newspapers, but also the Louisiana Democratic party” that ran an anti-Duke television campaign from 8th November (Bridges 230-231).

Why was there a huge response rate to the election call? Why was there strong resistance against Duke’s candidacy? Why were their struggles for “stop-Duke voters to speak out, form human billboards, buy political spots on television, flood newspapers with letters of outrage and concern”? (Powell) The voters were given the illustrations of Holocaust with ethical implications that affected the electoral politics. There were other aspects as well such as the business people worked because of their self-interest but they also formed opinions based on ethical concerns of Duke’s candidature (Powell).

Edwards and the coalition block equaled Duke’s governorship to Holocaust and Duke to the Hitler. Racial separation, contemporary disorder, vulnerability of commoners and political revolt were all regarded accompanying Duke’s authority due to which, there was a massive campaign pointed towards failure of Duke. According to Huey Long, “The agenda of radical and terrorist groups like the Klan and the neo-Nazis is to sow racial discord and rend this country asunder so that they can step in and pick up the pieces.” (Powell) So, the ideology was targeted and attacked altogether. There was unity and assemblage against the Duke’s election, the stop-Duke voters worked towards better relationship building between diverse races, religious majorities and minorities and partisanships. They worked collaboratively and identified themselves only as Louisianans (Powell). Gambit New Orleans’s alternative newsweekly described the unity of the voters as “Cajun and Creole, Caribbean and Hispanic, black and white, Catholic, Baptist, Jewish and dozens of other racial, religious, ethnic and cultural groups—we are all Louisianans” (Powell). Duke was shamed with the massive resistance and his disrepute brought his failure.

Summarizing the whole discussion of Duke’s defeat at the hands of Edwards, it is quite clear that Edwards used a number of tactics for highlighting the incapability of Duke for the governor’s status. He used Treen’s blaming and reported proofs, media campaigning, debates and anti-Duke movement to shun Duke’s call for governorship. Duke’s prior racial remarks, his involvement in white supremacist organizations, his sympathetic behavior towards Nazis and his economic ideals, all were targeted and revealed with full elaboration to eradicate any voter’s sympathy towards Duke. He was identified as a bitter racist ready to usurp the rights of minorities, create division between races and social classes, bring about economic doom and create a Nazi environment in Louisiana threatening the lives of Louisianans. Duke’s elective ineligibility was made a moral obligation and the voters were given warnings for futuristic dangers based on Duke’s governorship status. The race issue, threat of Nazism and economic doom, all gave rise to the notion that Duke’s authority would bring downfall to the society as a whole due to which, massive steps were taken to run such an inspirational and influenced campaign that eliminate any chances of Duke’s success. Edwards was himself not free of flaws as he was identified as a gambler, womanizer and a racketeer, but because of disapproving Duke’s stature and because of support from coalition and other supportive groups, he was able to defeat Duke.

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  1. Bridges, Tyler. The Rise of David Duke. Univ. Press of Mississippi, 1994.
  2. Brownstein, Ronald. “Edwards Defeats Duke in Louisiana Landslide : Election: He Regains Governorship with a Resounding 61%-39% Victory over the Former Klan Leader. Turnout Easily Surpasses Record.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 17 Nov. 1991. Web. 23 Nov. 2016.
  3. Chin, Gabriel J. “The Jena Six and the History of Racially Compromised Justice in Louisiana.” Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review 44 (2009): 361-391.
  4. Edley, C., Kirp, D., Gomolin, A. J., Green, J., Home, N., & Kidd, J. E. Race-Bait’08: Lessons Learned From the Political Dirty Dozen. UC Berkeley Schools of Law, Public Policy, 2007. <http://www.ibabuzz.com/politics/files/2007/12/racecardreportfinal.pdf>
  5. Fairclough, Adam. Race & democracy: the civil rights struggle in Louisiana, 1915-1972. University of Georgia Press, 2008.
  6. Hillyer, Quin. “Dave Treen, Political Builder.” The American Spectator. 30 Oct. 2009. Web. 23 Nov. 2016.
  7. Jamieson, Kathleen Hall. Dirty politics: Deception, distraction, and democracy. Oxford University Press on Demand, 1993.
  8. Powell, Lawrence N. “The Rise and Fall of David Duke: Breaking the Code of Right-wing Populism in Louisana.” The American Scholar, 1 Sept. 2005. Web. 23 Nov. 2016.
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