BATON ROUGE, LA. — REPUBLICAN Gov. Buddy Roemer received a disappointing rebuke this week when the party he adopted amid much fanfare in March refused to accede to his entreaties to scrap a state nominating convention in June. Both Mr. Roemer and national Republican leaders had hoped to find a state party unified behind him going into the state's open primary in October.
Instead, Roemer found himself faced with two determined opponents for the official GOP endorsement: state Rep. David Duke of Metairie, the erstwhile Ku Klux Klansman who polled 44 percent of the vote in last fall's US Senate race, and US Rep. Clyde Holloway, whose sprawling, 14-parish Eighth Congressional District will disappear next year because Louisiana lost one House seat in the 1990 census.
Candidates participating in the state convention process must sign affidavits that they will drop out of the primary and support the recipient of the convention endorsement. Both Roemer and Mr. Duke have declined to make that commitment. (Louisiana Democrats have no similar endorsement process.)
In a three-hour meeting May 11, John Treen, brother of former Gov. Dave Treen, introduced a proposal that in effect would have scuttled the June 15 convention. But the move was disallowed, and an attempt by pro-Roemer forces to overturn the ruling lost, 78 to 56. State GOP chairman Billy Nungesser insisted afterward that the procedural vote should not be construed as a repudiation of Roemer. But the conservative Holloway did see it as a rejection of the governor, a moderate who never has received the gr atitude he had hoped for from Louisiana's Republican right-wing for joining the GOP.
John Maginnis, one of the state's leading political columnists, predicted that being denied the party endorsement would damage Roemer little. ``It's going to cost him some money. That'll be inconvenient,'' Mr. Maginnis said. ``But he's not participating in the convention anyway. He's still going to have to run against Holloway.''
Dave Treen concurred, saying: ``I don't think it's [the convention endorsement] going to persuade a lot of people. Republicans are going to vote for whom they want.''
Roemer himself advocates a return to dual primaries, noting that only a handful of the state's 450,000 registered Republicans will participate in the party caucuses.
Democrats, meanwhile, have gleaned little satisfaction from Roemer's plight, because they are even more fragmented. Five have announced their candidacy: three-term former Gov. Edwin Edwards; Public Service Commissioner Louis Lambert, who lost a close runoff to Dave Treen in 1979; Aaron Broussard, mayor of the populous New Orleans suburb of Kenner; Franklin Mayor Sam Jones, and former Banking Commissioner Fred Dent.
Former Education Superintendent Tom Clausen, US Rep. Billy Tauzin, and state Public Service Commissioner Kathleen Blanco, all Democrats, also have expressed interest in the race.
Roemer still has mathematics on his side. A mid-April poll commissioned by the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate newspaper indicated 31.8 percent of prospective voters favoring the governor and 23.7 percent for Edwards. Duke garnered 9.6 percent, Lambert 6.9 percent, Holloway 4 percent, and Broussard 3.7 percent; 20 percent were undecided. Among Republicans, Roemer had 45.4 percent, Duke 13.6 percent, and Holloway 7.8 percent.
Under Louisiana's unique open-primary system all candidates are on a single ballot, though they may run with party endorsements. Unless one person gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the two top finishers face off in a runoff election.
This year's primary is Oct. 19, the runoff Nov. 16.