Duke's Maryland supporters dismiss his past as errors of youth

They come from working-class Baltimore, the toniest Washington suburbs and rural Maryland. They are men and women, young and old, doctors and mechanics.

But this demographic cross section has a common strain: support for David Duke, the 41-year-old former Ku Klux Klan leader and neo-Nazi who plans to run in Maryland's March 3 primary for the Republican presidential nomination.


One hundred forty-five Marylanders sent donations -- ranging from $2 to $400 -- to Mr. Duke's failed campaign for Louisiana governor last month, according to records filed with the Louisiana Ethics Commission. Nearly all of the more than a dozen Duke supporters interviewed yesterday said they will vote for Mr. Duke in the Maryland primary.

Several dismissed his past racist actions as indiscretions of youth, although his association with the Klan lasted until 1980 and he sold white supremacist and anti-Semitic literature into the late 1980s. Others simply said his past has been blown out of proportion by the liberal media.


Their talk quickly turned to frustration with welfare, quotas, taxes and foreign aid. Several among the mostly Republican group said they voted for President Bush in 1988 but now denounce him as a liberal.

Some were blatantly racial. "Duke stands up for his race, which most white people don't," declared a Smithsburg man who asked that his name not be used.

They are all the voices of the disenchanted and they rally to the callof Mr. Duke, who kicked off his presidential campaign last week by blasting Mr. Bush for signing the 1991 Civil Rights Act and "waffling" on racial quotas.

Mr. Duke's "the only man I could support," said Leonard Crapper, 71, a retired Riverdale construction supervisor who gave $400 to the Duke gubernatorial campaign. "He's offering something none the others are: equal opportunity for all, no favoritism.

"The big thing is to get some sense out of the welfare system, getthe people to work for the money they're getting from the government," he said.

Mr. Crapper, a World War II Army veteran who fought the Nazis in Europe, said Mr. Duke's Nazi sympathies don't bother him, adding "I haven't seen anything in his statements that would indicate that."

"He was a kid in those days," said Carl White, 71, a retired postal worker from Mount Airy. "A lot of other people have worse backgrounds inCongress."

"He's got the message I think people want to hear," said Thomas Insley, a 55-year-old home improvement contractor from Baltimore who said Mr. Duke is looking out for "middle-class whites."


Mr. Insley supported Mr. Bush in 1988 but believes the president has "gone liberal" and notices backing for Mr. Duke among his friends at various fraternal groups. "I find he's getting growing support among those people, most of them are Democrats," Mr. Insley said. Mr. Duke "can't win, but I hope he gets enough to get a scare vote," Mr. Insley said.

"I think his support's grown as far as people I talk to," said Stanley Kazmarek, 43, an electrical designer from Baltimore who supported President Bush. "I'm inclined to think I'd go with Duke."

Since Maryland has a "closed primary," only registered Republicans may cast ballots for Mr. Duke. One political analyst, John T. Willis, author of "Presidential Elections In Maryland," predicted Mr. Duke will capture 20 percent of the vote or less as long as President Bush mounts a strong campaign here.

The Maryland Republican Party has disavowed Mr. Duke, saying it will do everything in its power "to guarantee his overwhelming defeat." Gov. William Donald Schaefer also has said he does not want to see Mr. Duke on the state ballot.

But Duke supporters brush aside such talk. "Typical of how unfair our country has become," said Mary Mazzucca of Severn, who with her husband, Robert, donated $300 to the Duke campaign in Louisiana.

"We find that he is honest. Maybe he has a checkered past, but at least he's honest about it," she said.


Mrs. Mazzucca supports Mr. Duke's attacks on quotas. "We believe the best qualified person is the person who gets the job," said the Severn woman, who backed Mr. Bush in the 1988 campaign but now faults him for signing the Civil Rights bill. "It's going to kill business," she charged.

Paul Petro, a 40-year-old mechanic from Owings Mills and registered Republican, supports Mr. Duke's positions but is troubled by his past.

"It's just the part with the Nazi stuff," he said, wondering whether someone with such views should sit in the Oval Office. "As a president, I'd really have to think about it," Mr. Petro said.