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What Scalise and Vitter Told Roll Call About David Duke in 1999

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Back in 1999, Roll Call interviewed white supremacist leader David Duke about the possibility he would seek the House seat vacated by the resignation of Republican Rep. Bob Livingston. As part of that report, reporter John Mercurio also talked to up-and-coming Louisiana politicians, current Sen. David Vitter and current House Majority Whip Steve Scalise.

"I honestly think his 15 minutes of fame have come and gone," said state Rep. David Vitter (R), a wealthy Metairie attorney who holds Duke's old seat in the state House and is "seriously considering" a Congressional bid. "When he's competed in a field with real conservatives, real Republicans, Duke has not done well at all." Another potential candidate, state Rep. Steve Scalise (R), said he embraces many of the same "conservative" views as Duke, but is far more viable. "The novelty of David Duke has worn off," said Scalise. "The voters in this district are smart enough to realize that they need to get behind someone who not only believes in the issues they care about, but also can get elected. Duke has proven that he can't get elected, and that's the first and most important thing."
In light of Monday's news reports about the likelihood that Scalise addressed Duke's European-American Unity and Rights Organization back in 2002 , here is the full report from the Jan. 7, 1999, edition of Roll Call:
One of the most unlikely beneficiaries of the Monica Lewinsky scandal could be former Ku Klux Klan leader and 1990 Senate candidate David Duke (R). But the idea that Duke could succeed exiting Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.) in a House special election this year has sent Louisiana Republicans - who hope to hinder Duke by scheduling that vote with the state's gubernatorial and legislative elections in October - into action. Party leaders are urging Gov. Mike Foster (R) to schedule the special election on Oct. 23 with a Nov. 20 runoff - the same dates other major state races are slated to be held. Doing so would dramatically increase turnout for the special, and GOP campaign strategists say a high turnout would hurt Duke, whose support is narrow but highly motivated to go to the polls. Duke - a former KKK grand wizard and author of white supremacist tracts who has already started focusing this campaign on opposition to affirmative action and immigration - is the only major candidate to announce his intention to run for the seat Livingston plans to vacate sometime this summer. Livingston was poised to succeed former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), but he announced his plans to resign shortly before the House's Dec. 19, 1998, impeachment vote. Days earlier, Livingston had acknowledged several extramarital affairs during his tenure in the House. GOP leaders in Louisiana and on Capitol Hill fear Duke could undermine their efforts to attract moderate voters and minorities to the party. He has run competitively in two statewide races this decade. "I'm outside the mainstream of the Beltway politicians, but I'm well inside the mainstream of rank-and-file Republicans in this country and certainly in this district," Duke said in an interview Tuesday. "The insiders are in a tizzy because they know I have a good shot." Duke said his campaign will succeed regardless of how party leaders tinker with the schedule. "It probably helps me to run at the same time as the governor because the opposition, the good ol' boy network, will be so wrapped up in their own races that they won't have the time to fight me," he said. That logic is not lost on Foster, who has not signed onto any election schedule yet. Duke, a former state Representative, won 44 percent of the vote in his 1990 Senate challenge to then-Sen. Bennett Johnston (D) and took 39 percent in his 1991 gubernatorial race against Gov. Edwin Edwards (D), but he carried Livingston's solidly GOP 1st district in suburban New Orleans on both occasions. Eighty-five percent of the 1st district's population is white; only 10 percent is black. The district is the most Republican and the most conservative in the state. In the 1991 gubernatorial election, Duke took about 60 percent in the four parishes that comprise the 1st district, according to the state Department of Elections. In the 1990 Senate race, he lost to Johnston, 54 to 44 percent, but Duke won about 54 percent in the 1st district's parishes. Duke dropped out of the 1995 governor's race and he won only 12 percent in the state's open Senate primary in 1996, placing fourth in a field of 15 candidates that included six Republicans. In the interview, Duke said he plans to raise about $500,000 for the yet-to- be scheduled special. He has not held any formal fundraisers, but he traveled to Arlington, Va., late last month for a speaking engagement and said he did collect some funds there. In an effort to block Duke, the state's Republican establishment is actively recruiting other strong candidates. Targets of their efforts include former Gov. David Treen, 1996 Senate candidate Bill Linder, Slidell Mayor Sam Caruso and Rob Couhig, owner of the New Orleans Zephyrs, a minor league baseball team. Under Louisiana's unique election law, all House candidates run on one ballot. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent, the top two vote- getters compete in a runoff, regardless of party affiliation. "By fall, you'll see a rush by elected officials uniting behind a strong candidate to make sure they don't have to deal with someone who wouldn't be acceptable to Louisiana voters," said Becky Miller, executive director of the state GOP. "Duke has some Republican principles, but for the most part he's outside the box." Other potential Republican candidates said Duke's political viability has waned in recent years. "I honestly think his 15 minutes of fame have come and gone," said state Rep. David Vitter (R), a wealthy Metairie attorney who holds Duke's old seat in the state House and is "seriously considering" a Congressional bid. "When he's competed in a field with real conservatives, real Republicans, Duke has not done well at all." Another potential candidate, state Rep. Steve Scalise (R), said he embraces many of the same "conservative" views as Duke, but is far more viable. "The novelty of David Duke has worn off," said Scalise. "The voters in this district are smart enough to realize that they need to get behind someone who not only believes in the issues they care about, but also can get elected. Duke has proven that he can't get elected, and that's the first and most important thing." Several top-tier Democrats are being mentioned as House candidates, including former Kenner Mayor Aaron Broussard and Paul Connick, the district attorney in Jefferson Parish. Connick is the nephew of Harry Connick, the district attorney in Orleans Parish, and the cousin of singer Harry Connick Jr. But Democrats readily acknowledge they face an uphill climb in a district that has not elected a Democrat since Livingston won office in 1977. "That's the first thing that crossed my mind," said state Rep. Melinda Schwegmann (D), a former lieutenant governor who may run for Livingston's seat. "I'm a Democrat. What kind of a chance do I have in this highly Republican-percentage district?" But with Duke and a Democratic candidate in a runoff, the seat could easily fall into the Democratic column. Duke said he'll focus his campaign on promises to "outlaw affirmative action programs that discriminate against European Americans, shut down illegal immigration and take a time out on legal immigration." He said he would also actively oppose efforts by Puerto Rico to acquire statehood. Duke, the founder and former president of the National Association for the Advancement of White People, has provoked passionate reactions from every corner of the political spectrum since he vaulted onto the national scene in the late 1980s. He made headlines when he acknowledged sympathizing with Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, but won votes by talking to constituents about issues more relevant to their daily lives, like taxes, welfare reform and racial quotas. A state legislator for only 18 months when he ran to challenge Johnston, Duke quickly became a household name in Louisiana. In September 1997, he was elected chairman of the St. Tammany Republican Parish Executive Committee - the most Republican parish in the 1st district. In the 1990 Senate race, Duke spent $2.6 million, Johnston $5.4 million. At a time when politicians are increasingly open to questions about their personal lives, Duke, who has been divorced for 20 years, is also seeking to assure Republican voters that he would not suffer the same fate as Livingston. "I'm the only candidate who doesn't have to worry about skeletons in my closet. I don't have a closet anymore," he said. "No one has been more investigated politically in this state. I'm scandal-proof."
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