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In viral bumper sticker, man summed up 1991 governor’s race

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — On the morning of Oct. 20, 1991, more than 400,000 voters in Louisiana suddenly faced a difficult decision. They had voted the day before to reelect Gov. Buddy Roemer, but Roemer finished third in the primary and out of the money.

In the runoff, just four weeks away, that left Roemer voters two unpalatable choices: Edwin Edwards, a former governor widely thought to be corrupt, or David Duke, the state representative who had spent the past 20 years demeaning Black people and denouncing Jewish people. It would become known as the Race from Hell.

One Roemer supporter, however, had a moment of clarity when he woke up that morning. Kirby Newburger, a 31-year-old financial planner who lived in Duke’s House district, called a printer and asked if he could do a rush job. Newburger wanted 250 bumper stickers that, to him, summed up the choice for Roemer voters and other voters: “Vote for the Crook: It’s Important.”

At the time, the Louisiana gubernatorial race was generating headlines in major newspapers throughout the United States and even overseas, driven by the unthinkable possibility that a former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard could be elected the state’s chief executive.

Edwards, a Democrat with bayou charm, was mounting a political comeback to be elected governor a fourth time, something no one had ever done in Louisiana. Duke was riding a wave of racism and economic anxiety with an us-versus-them message that had made him the state’s most popular Republican.

Today, almost three decades later, the 1991 race remains a topic of enduring fascination for people such as Ken Rudin, who is based in Maryland and has been collecting political bumper stickers and buttons for 55 years.

“The slogan is brilliant in its subtlety and its humor,” said Rudin, who hosts the “Political Junkie” podcast. “Unlike so many buttons and bumper stickers that spout criticism, the beauty of it is that it perfectly summarized a nationally renowned campaign into a clever one-liner.”

One of the most indelible memories of the race has been Newburger’s bumper sticker, although few people know he was the person behind it. Credit is usually given to Rhoda Faust, the owner of the former Maple Street Book Shop in New Orleans. She was well-known locally and ordered additional bumper stickers.

Many years later, Newburger remains bemused that it was he who came up with perhaps the best-known political bumper sticker ever.

“I didn’t think about doing this until I did it,” Newburger said. “It was just impulsive. I didn’t discuss it with my wife, my neighbors or a friend. It just came to me.

“I had never done anything like this before — or since. I just woke up, came up with it and followed through.”

Newburger put the first bumper sticker on his car. He soon learned that he needed to carry more bumper stickers because other drivers wanted one for themselves.

“I handed them out wherever I went,” he recalled. “Everybody wanted them.”

Newburger had the printer, Dart Fee, print more.

Somehow David Brinkley got hold of one for his Sunday morning political news program on ABC and held it up for viewers. The slogan entered the national political consciousness.

Faust ordered perhaps 2,000 more stickers and sold them for $1 each. Some customers came specifically to buy them.

“The comment people would make was, ‘It’s hilarious. But it’s so true. He’s a crook, but we got to vote for him,’” Faust said later.

All told, Fee estimated later that he printed 5,000 bumper stickers for Newburger and Faust.

Midway through the 1991 runoff, Duke had the momentum, and it appeared that he might defeat Edwards. Newburger told his wife around this time that if Duke won, they would have to sell their house and move to one of the other 97 cities where his employer, the Legg Mason financial advising firm, had offices. She looked over the list and said she could accept moving to Annapolis, Maryland.

Ten minutes later, however, she returned in tears. “I don’t want to move,” she said.

“I don’t want to move either,” he replied.

But as election day neared, both Roemer supporters and those who had sat out the primary decided that Duke’s election would mean an unacceptable stain for the state and a likely economic boycott by businesses that would cost jobs and investment.

On Nov. 16, 1991, Edwards crushed Duke with 61% of the vote.

The Newburgers stayed put.

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