The top staffers of the state Democratic Party and Louisiana Republican Party said Monday they were disappointed that David Duke will share the stage with other Senate hopefuls in a statewide televised debate next week.
Both Stephen Handwerk, the executive director of the Louisiana Democratic Party, and Jason Doré, who serves the same function for the GOP, said Raycom Media could invite whoever they want to their forums. But both criticized the criteria used by the television stations that gave Duke a place on the stage along with five other candidates.
“Because of what he espouses, because who he is, because of the things that he says and the things that he does, and the things that he fights for, he absolutely should not be given any extra time from anyone,” Handwerk said, adding that in addition to clearing a 5 percent voter support in its poll, Raycom should have used other criteria to decide which candidates would be invited.
“He’s a hate-filled fraud, he has no place in our politics today and if I were a decision maker over there I certainly wouldn’t have him as part of the debate,” Doré said.
The controversial Mandeville Republican came to political prominence as the head of a Ku Klux Klan faction. In running for the U.S. Senate, Duke continues to espouse white supremacist and anti-Semitic rhetoric in pursuing what he calls the protection of “European-American” rights.
Duke had the support of 5.1 percent of the 625 registered Louisiana voters interviewed by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, according to the survey released last week. Raycom commissioned the poll to decide which of the two dozen Senate candidates would receive invitations for a Nov. 2 debate at Dillard University in New Orleans. The debate will be aired on the stations the Alabama-based company owns or manages in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Lake Charles, and Shreveport.
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Doré said the internal polling of GOP campaigns show Duke’s support around 2 percent. He questioned the Raycom’s results that allows Duke on stage and suggested the results might be aimed at boosting ratings.
Vicki Zimmerman, Raycom Media’s regional news director, defended the poll and the 5 percent voter support trigger as one that has been used for years. “We commissioned Mason Dixon Polling and Research to conduct the poll and believe the results are unbiased. We are committed to producing a program that is fair and informative for Louisiana to choose their next U.S. Senator,” Zimmerman said in an email.
Early voting is set for every day this week, and Monday and Tuesday of next week, from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
In Louisiana’s open primary system, the top two finishers, regardless of party, will advance to a Dec. 10 runoff.
Apart from a debate televised statewide last week by Louisiana Public Broadcasting and sponsored by Council for a Better Louisiana, the Raycom forum is the only scheduled event before the Nov. 8 election.
Duke did not qualify for the CABL/LPB event because their criteria included fundraising minimums as well as poll numbers.
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Doré and Handwerk spoke to the Press Club of Baton Rouge in place of Karen Carter Peterson, chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, and Roger Villere, chairman of the state Republican Party. Peterson couldn’t make the forum because of airline flight problems.
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