Louisiana gubernatorial election, 1991
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The Louisiana gubernatorial election of 1991 resulted in the election of Edwin Edwards to his fourth non-consecutive term as governor of Louisiana. The election received national and international attention due to the unexpectedly strong showing of David Duke, a former Grand Wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, who had ties to other white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups.
In 1991 all elections in Louisiana—with the exception of U.S. presidential elections—followed a variation of the open primary system called the jungle primary. Candidates of any and all parties are listed on one ballot; voters need not limit themselves to the candidates of one party. Unless one candidate takes 50% or more of the vote in the first round, a run-off election is then held between the top two candidates, who may in fact be members of the same party. In this election, the first round of voting was held on October 19, 1991, and the runoff was held on November 16.
Public Service Commissioner Kathleen Blanco, a Democrat, announced her candidacy in May 1991. Edwards was not impressed by her entry. It was the first time in 40 years a woman had seriously run for Governor but Edwards surmised she would not get out of single digits. Blanco, who came from Acadiana, could have complicated Edwards' bid for a fourth term but after 100 days she suddenly withdrew and ran for Public Service Commissioner again.
Meanwhile, Governor Roemer was facing a potential opponent for the Republican support who could have denied him major party support he needed to stave off Holloway and Duke. Another prominent party-switcher, Secretary of State Fox McKeithen who withdrew from a 1990 U.S. Senate bid actively explored a gubernatorial bid. His father, former Governor John McKeithen would prove to be a strong asset had he run, but in the end McKeithen figured that his time had come and gone and ran for reelection as Secretary of State.
After the withdrawal of Blanco & McKeithen the field of candidates began to solidify. Then late in March, incumbent Governor Buddy Roemer set off a firestorm by making a late-term party switch that dismayed as many Republican politicians and activists as it did Democrats. One irate Republican was the state party chairman, William "Billy" Nungesser of New Orleans. Failing to get the Louisiana Republicans' endorsement convention canceled, Roemer boldly announced he would skip the event. The convention, as expected, endorsed U.S. Representative Clyde C. Holloway, the favored candidate of the pro-life forces in the state, with whom Roemer was at odds at the time.
The first round primary gubernatorial contest included Roemer, Edwin Edwards, State Representative David Duke, and Eighth District Congressman Holloway who all ran in Louisiana's open primary. Roemer was wounded by his mistakes as governor, while Edwards and Duke each had a passionate core group of supporters. Roemer shockingly placed third in the primary. One of the contributing factors to Roemer's defeat was a last-minute advertising barrage by Marine Shale owner Jack Kent. Marine Shale had been targeted by the Roemer administration as a polluter. Kent spent $500,000 of his own money in the closing days of the campaign to purchase anti-Roemer commercials.
Faced with the alternative of David Duke, many Louisianans who were otherwise critical of Edwards now looked favorably on him as an alternative. This included Buddy Roemer, who had run in the primary on an "Anyone but Edwards" platform. He ended up endorsing Edwards rather than Duke, who was the putative Republican candidate.
The resulting runoff campaign was widely seen as one of the dirtiest and most negative campaigns in recent history. Edwards and his supporters seized on Duke's record as a white supremacist; Duke responded by claiming to be a born-again Christian who had renounced racism and anti-Semitism after his conversion.
When someone has a long record, an ugly record, of racism and bigotry, that record simply cannot be erased by the glib rhetoric of a political campaign. So I believe David Duke is an insincere charlatan. I believe he's attempting to hoodwink the voters of Louisiana. I believe he should be rejected for what he is and what he stands for.
The runoff debate, held on November 6, 1991, received significant attention when reporter Norman Robinson questioned Duke. Robinson, who is African-American, told Duke that he was "scared" at the prospect of his winning the election because of his history of "diabolical, evil, vile" racist and anti-Semitic comments, some of which he read to Duke. He then pressed Duke for an apology. When Duke protested that Robinson was not being fair to him, Robinson replied that he didn't think Duke was being honest. Jason Berry of the Los Angeles Times called it "startling TV" and the "catalyst" for the "overwhelming" turnout of black voters that helped former Governor Edwin Edwards defeat Duke.
First voting round, October 19
|1991 Louisiana gubernatorial election|
|Republican||Buddy Roemer (inc.)||410,690||26.51|
|Republican||Clyde C. Holloway||82,683||5.34|
|Democratic||Sam S. Jones||11,847||0.76|
|Democratic||Cousin Ken Lewis||1,006||0.06|
Runoff, November 16
|1991 Louisiana gubernatorial election runoff|
|Democratic gain from Republican|
1987 gubernatorial election
|Louisiana gubernatorial elections||Succeeded by|
1995 gubernatorial election
Although he won 26 parishes, Edwards finished first in the primary with 523,096 votes (33.76%). Duke finished second, carrying 31 parishes and 491,342 votes (31.71%). Roemer, the incumbent, finished third with 410,690 votes (26.51%) and carried 7 parishes. In the runoff, Edwards won the election with 1,057,031 votes. Most of the people who voted Roemer in the primary voted for Edwards in the runoff, helping Edwards win Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes. As of 2017, this is the most recent election that the Democrats have carried St. Tammany Parish in a statewide election.
- Bridges, Tyler (2004-12-07). "Blanco's Bid". New Orleans News and Entertainment. Retrieved 2016-08-08.
- Sadow, Jeff (2009-12-16). "McKeithen's death raises provocative questions". Between The Lines. Retrieved 2016-08-08.
- Thomas, Patrick (1991-06-14). "Louisiana GOP Expected to Reject Roemer". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2016-08-08.
- Suro, David (2 July 1996). "The 1991 Election: Louisiana – Bush Denounces Duke As Racist and Charlatan". The New York Times.
- "Duke Gets His Comeuppance From the Victims of His Hate Message : Politics: Up until an amazing TV exchange, Louisiana's blacks had remained on the sidelines. Then they flooded the polls". Los Angeles Times. November 24, 1991. Retrieved November 11, 2014.
- First gubernatorial debate
- Second gubernatorial debate
- Third gubernatorial debate
- Louisiana Secretary of State Elections Division. Official Election Results Database
- Statewide primary results, October 19, 1991
- Primary results by parish: Governor, October 19, 1991
- Statewide runoff results, November 16, 1991
- Runoff results by parish: Governor, November 16, 1991