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We don’t have long to go before the gubernatorial runoff between Democratic ex-Gov. Edwin Edwards and GOP state Rep. David Duke—yes, that’s right, the former head of the state Ku Klux Klan. Edwards outpaced Duke 34-32 in the October jungle primary, with 27 percent going to incumbent Gov. Buddy Roemer, a lifelong Democrat who became a Republican while in office earlier this year. The big question now is where Roemer’s supporters will go. Despite his recent party switch, Roemer’s thrown his backing to Edwards, but the Democrat has been battling corruption allegations for years. So will Roemer voters instead back Duke, who is selling himself as a mainstream conservative who has put his shocking past behind him?
So far, the polls look good for Edwards: A trio of surveys released this week give Edwards a lead of anywhere between 7 and 10 points. A recent Marketing Research Institute poll, conducted for several businessmen in North Louisiana, also brings very good news for Edwards. They show 58 percent of Roemer’s people jumping to Edwards, a healthy increase from the 48 percent who said they’d vote that way in late October.
The problem is, no one’s sure if they can trust the polls this time. It’s very possible that Duke voters, knowing that they’re “supposed” to say they’re voting against the former Klan grand wizard, are lying to pollsters so that they aren’t judged as racist. Plenty of voters also seem convinced that Duke really has left his past behind but don’t feel the same about Edwards. National Republican leaders, including President Bush, have denounced Duke, but no one knows if this will be enough to help the Democrat. When Duke ran for state representative in 1989, Bush, Reagan, and other influential Republicans urged Jefferson Parish voters to reject the one-time Klansman, but it was no use. There could be a similar backlash on Saturday.
African-American turnout is also a big question. In the first round, black turnout lagged about 10 points behind the white vote. Edwards and his allies have been working to boost it for the runoff, and we’ll need to wait until election night to see if they’re successful.
Right now, there are just too many uncertainties. The polls look good for Edwards, but we just don’t feel we can trust the numbers. Last year, Duke lost to Democratic Sen. J. Bennett Johnston by a closer-than-expected 55-44 margin—notable because Johnston had none of the skeletons in his closest that Edwards has. It therefore wouldn’t take all that many Johnston voters to decide they’re more turned off by Edwards’ corruption than Duke’s history of racism to switch sides and hand the election to the Republican.
Daily Kos Elections rates this race as a Tossup, and we’ll just need to see how things unfold on Saturday.
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