Slow Burn: David Duke

Season 4: Episode 5

The Road to Hell

The 1991 Louisiana governor’s race turned into a battle over what the state was, and what it should be.


Episode Notes

Edwin Edwards was a towering force in Louisiana politics. Buddy Roemer dethroned him and promised to modernize the state. In 1991, David Duke challenged both of them and was soon on the verge of the biggest victory of his life.

In Episode 5 of Slow Burn: How a Louisiana governor’s race became one of the most consequential elections in modern American history.

Season 4 of Slow Burn is produced by Josh Levin and Christopher Johnson. Mixing by Paul Mounsey. Slow Burn’s production assistant is Madeline Ducharme and Sophie Summergrad is the podcast’s assistant producer.

The last two episodes of this season are available only to Slate Plus subscribers. You can sign up by going to It’s only $15 for your first three months.

Sources for This Episode


Bridges, Tyler. The Rise and Fall of David Duke, University Press of Mississippi, 2018 (originally published in 1994).

Hair, William Ivy. The Kingfish and His Realm: The Life and Times of Huey P. Long, Louisiana State University Press, 1991.

Maginnis, John. Cross to Bear, Dark Horse Press, 1992.

Strother, Raymond D. Falling Up: How a Redneck Helped Invent Political Consulting, Louisiana State University Press, 2003.


Applebome, Peter. “In an Age of Bland Politics, Eccentricity Lives On in Louisiana,” New York Times, July 19, 1991.

Applebome, Peter. “Duke: The Ex-Nazi Who Would Be Governor,” New York Times, Nov. 10, 1991.

Baquet, Dean. “Edwards: Polished act different behind the scenes,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, Oct. 30, 1983.

Blount Jr., Roy. “What Does Edwin Edwards Do When He’s $4 Million in Debt? Take 617 of His Closest Friends to Paris,” People, Feb. 13, 1984.

Branson, Reed. “GOP Switch Fits Image of Roemer as Maverick,” Commercial Appeal, March 17, 1991.

Bridges, Tyler. “Duke Can Get in Runoff, Poll Shows,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, Oct. 3, 1991.

Finley, Keith. “Edwin Edwards,” 64 Parishes.

Haas, Edward F. “Huey P. Long Jr.,” 64 Parishes.

Howell, Susan E. and Robert T. Sims, “Survey Research and Racially Charged Elections: The Case of David Duke in Louisiana,” Political Behavior, June 1994.

King, Wayne. “Bad Times on the Bayou,” New York Times, June 11, 1989.

Kolbert, Elizabeth. “The Big Sleazy,” the New Yorker, June 5, 2006.

Maraniss, David. “Duke’s Obsession: White Supremacy With a Plan,” Washington Post, Nov. 10, 1991.

McQuaid, John. “Roemer was raised on public service,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, Sept. 24, 1987.

Meyer, Richard E. “The Rake, the Racist, and the New-Age Reformer: Only in Louisiana Would Rogues Like These Seek the Governorship, and With It, Redemption,” Los Angeles Times, Oct. 13, 1991.

O’Brian, Bridget and Mark Schleifstein. “Volz: Bribe of Edwards was the key,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, Oct. 1, 1985.

Patriquin, Ronni. “Roemer speech stuns lawmakers,” Shreveport Journal, April 17, 1990.

Schleifstein, Mark and Tyler Bridges. “Duke’s Christian Fervor Contrasts With Past Views,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, Nov. 1, 1991.

Wardlaw, Jack. “Edwards made his career by being different,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, March 1, 1985.

Wardlaw, Jack and John Pope. “Political jet set takes off late for Paris party,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, Jan. 20, 1984.

Why Louisiana’s Voting System Is Unusual,” New York Times, Nov. 16, 1991.

Slate Plus Member Content Bonus Episode

Katrina, Duke, and Reporting on Louisiana’s History

Writers Clint Smith and Vann R. Newkirk II discuss the parallels between David Duke’s rise and Hurricane Katrina.


About the Show

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a white supremacist became an American political phenomenon. David Duke’s rise to power and prominence—his election to the Louisiana Legislature, and then his campaigns for the U.S. Senate and the governorship—was an existential crisis for the state and the nation. The fourth season of Slate’s Slow Burn will explore how a Nazi sympathizer and former Klansman fashioned himself into a mainstream figure, and why some voters came to embrace his message. It will also examine how activists, journalists, and ordinary citizens confronted Duke’s candidacy, and what it took to stop him.

The season is hosted by Josh Levin, a longtime Slow Burn editor and native Louisianian.

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