July 23, 2016 - 7:00 AM
BATON ROUGE, La. - Declaring "the climate of this country has moved in my direction," white supremacist David Duke registered Friday for Louisiana's U.S. Senate race, saying he was partially spurred by the recent shooting deaths of three law enforcement officers by a black man.
"I believe my time has come," the former Ku Klux Klan leader said after submitting his paperwork for the ballot. He added: "The people of this country, the patriotic, decent, God-fearing people of this country are now right with me."
Duke's candidacy comes one day after Donald Trump accepted the GOP nomination for president, and Duke said he's espoused principles for years that are similar to the themes Republicans are now supporting in Trump's campaign, on issues such as immigration and trade.
He said Americans are "embracing the core issues I have fought for my entire life."
Duke, 66, is registered with the GOP, but Republicans at the state and federal level quickly denounced his 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, calling Duke a "hate-filled fraud who does not embody the values of the Republican Party." Ward Baker, with the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said Duke will not have the support of his organization "under any circumstance."
Trump faced criticism from some GOP leaders for failing during the primary season to immediately denounce the tacit endorsement of Duke, who once told his radio show audience that a vote for any other candidate "is really treason to your heritage." Trump eventually did disavow Duke. Trump's campaign didn't release any statement on Duke Friday.
The launch of Duke's campaign comes as Louisiana 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. Duke said he was "shattered" by the slayings of police.
In a lengthy speech, Duke talked of the "massive racial discrimination going on right now against European Americans," and what he called a biased media working against him. He called the Black Lives Matter movement a "terrorist organization" and said he wanted equal rights for everyone.
"You don't come together by a narrative in the controlled media that white people are evil and black people are faultless. You come together on the idea that every people in this country have a right to respect, every people have a right to fairness," he said.
Duke is among two dozen candidates on the Nov. 8 ballot seeking the open Senate seat. Republican David Vitter is not running for re-election. Republican and Democrat opponents sought to distance themselves from Duke's campaign, with many offering critical statements of his candidacy.
In Metairie, a predominantly white and Republican stronghold in the New Orleans area where Duke once was elected to the state House of Representatives, voters expressed mixed feelings about Duke's interest in returning into politics.
Maria Fox, a 68-year-old housewife who came to the United States from Nicaragua, was pleased that Duke is running.
"Many, many years ago he woke up the consciousness of this country and this state just like Trump is doing to the country," she said.
Chuck Diesel, a 46-year-old Republican and bass player, shook his head at the news that Duke was running, calling him a "Nazi." But he gave Duke no chance of winning.
"Every time he's tipped his toe back in, it's zero chance," he said.
Duke reacted angrily to a question about whether he remained involved with the KKK. He said he was active with the organization for four years in the mid-1970s. He described it "four decades ago in a nonviolent group."
Duke's last tenure in elected office was more than two decades ago, in the state legislature. He's run unsuccessfully 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."
Edwards said Duke would have a "hard row to hoe" in the upcoming election but there might be a "niche" for him.
"There's a great deal of racial unrest in the country, and he may capitalize on it," Edwards said.
Duke also starts with name recognition that other candidates don't have, Edwards said.
Raymond Jetson, an African-American pastor in Baton Rouge who was a state lawmaker during Duke's tenure, said Duke can potentially thrive with the national political scene currently so divided.
"You have a climate that ... highlights and stresses the divisions within us, a climate that in so many ways has a strong racial overtone and challenge to it," Jetson said.
A convicted felon, Duke 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.
AP reporters Rebecca Santana and Cain Burdeau in New Orleans contributed to this story.
News from © The Associated Press, 2016