Former KKK grand wizard David Duke launches bid for US Senate

Duke's candidacy comes as Louisiana grapples with deep racial tensions after the shooting death of a black man by white police officers and the killing of three law enforcement officers by a black man.

Gustau Nacarino/Reuters/File
David Duke, former Republican member of the Louisiana House of Representatives and former Grand Wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, speaks to journalists on a street in central Barcelona, in 2007.

Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, an avowed white supremacist, officially signed up Friday to run for U.S. Senate in Louisiana.

"I'm proud to announce my candidacy for the United States Senate," Duke said in a video before he signed qualifying papers. "I believe in equal rights for all and respect for all Americans. However, what makes me different is I also demand respect for the rights and heritage of European Americans."

Duke's candidacy comes as the state is grappling with deep racial tensions after the shooting death of a black man by white police officers and the killing of three law enforcement officers by a black man. It also comes one day after Donald Trump accepted the GOP nomination for president.

Duke said in the video, "I'm overjoyed to see Donald Trump and most Americans embrace most of the issues that I've championed for years. My slogan remains America first."

Duke's endorsement of Mr. Trump in February drew heavy criticism, especially after Trump claimed not to know much about Duke when asked if he would disavow the endorsement. Trump eventually did disavow Duke's support, saying that a faulty earpiece had made it difficult for him to hear the initial question.

A registered Republican, Duke is seeking an open seat vacated by Republican David Vitter.

Nearly two dozen candidates have signed up for the Senate race. The seat is open because Vitter decided not to seek re-election on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Republicans at the state and federal level quickly denounced Duke's Senate bid.

Roger Villere, chairman of the Republican Party of Louisiana, said in a statement the party "will play an active role in opposing" him.

"The Republican Party opposes, in the strongest possible terms, David Duke's candidacy for any public office. David Duke is a convicted felon and a hate-filled fraud who does not embody the values of the Republican Party," Villere said Friday.

Ward Baker, with the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said Louisiana voters have several GOP candidates "who will have a great impact on the Bayou State and the future of our country."

"David Duke is not one of them. He will not have the support of the NRSC under any circumstance," Baker said in a statement.

Duke is a former state representative who represented suburban New Orleans for one term more than two decades ago and was an unsuccessful candidate for Congress. His failed bid for governor in the 1991 race against former Gov. Edwin Edwards — who was later convicted of corruption — was one of Louisiana's most high-profile elections, with Duke opponents proudly showing bumper stickers supporting Edwards that read "Vote for the crook. It's important."

In a posting on his website, Duke said he'd been "urged by enormous numbers of people" in his district to run for United States Congress.

"With the country coming apart at the seams and no one willing to really speak the truth about what is happening, the majority population in this country needs someone who will actually give voice to their interests in the face of an increasingly violent hatefest launched by the media and political establishment against them," Duke's website says.

Duke, a convicted felon, pleaded guilty in 2002 to bilking his supporters and cheating on his taxes. He spent a year in federal prison, but later denied any wrongdoing.

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