U.S. Sen. J. Bennett Johnston won a fourth term, but former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke says his strong showing may translate into the beginning of a national political agenda.
Or maybe a run at the Louisiana governorship.Duke claimed 44 percent of the vote in Saturday's race against Johnston, a Democrat who had always been easily re-elected.
"I'm very committed to making political changes in this state and in this country. I've got to be very encouraged by this election," Duke said at a news conference Sunday. "I want to move forward. I want to make an impact. I want to make a difference."
Johnston, who got 54 percent of the vote, said he "got the message" from the more than 600,000 people who voted for Duke, but he added that he would not become more conservative, claiming much of Duke's showing was the result of rocky economic times in Louisiana.
During the bitter campaign, Duke attacked affirmative action, forced busing and welfare abuse. He also attacked Johnston for playing a key role in the Senate campaign to reject conservative Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork and for backing the 1990 Civil Rights Act.
"I knew David Duke had a tremendous appeal. There's frustration out there. When people are unemployed and underemployed, it's easy to blame it on someone else," Johnston said. "It's easy to blame on affirmative action."
Complete but unofficial returns gave Johnston 749,552 votes, or 54 percent, and Duke 605,681 votes, or 44 percent. Two minor Democratic candidates split the remainder. Nick Accardo had 21,709 votes and Larry Crowe had 14,472 votes.
Ed Renwick of Loyola University's Institute of Politics said Duke, a member of the state Legislature, may have lost the election, but gained national attention.
"You don't win elections with 44 percent, but it makes a lot of politicians sit up and take notice," he said.
On Sunday, Duke backed off of his announced plan to go to court over absentee ballots cast but not counted for state Sen. Ben Bagert, the official Republican nominee.
Bagert dropped out two days before Saturday's primary amid pressure from national GOP leaders who feared that his candidacy would force a runoff between Johnston and the maverick Republican Duke.
Under Louisiana's open primary system, all candidates run against each other in the primary, regardless of party. If no one gets more than 50 percent, those finishing first and second face each other in a runoff.
Bagert withdrew too late to get his name off the ballot. Under a 1981 law, his votes could not be counted, but some were because it was too late to change computer programs or courthouse operations. Those reported to The Associated Press gave Bagert 10,536 votes - less than 1 percent of the 1.4 million cast.
Although Bagert said dropping out was his idea, Duke called the withdrawal a political deal and a dirty trick. Johnston got the unprecedented cross-party endorsement of eight Republican senators and Jack Kemp, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Duke said he was studying a possible run for Louisiana governor in 1991. Such a race would require him to give up his state House seat, which he won in a special election in 1989.
"I think that (Gov.) Buddy Roemer better be sobered up to the fact that we received well over 100,000 more votes than he received for the governorship," Duke said.