Barry makes comeback in primaries

Incumbents fell, another woman outsider triumphed, a dead man was overwhelmingly nominated and a disgraced former Mayor of Washington DC staged a stunning comeback, as voters across the country again signalled their disgruntlement in Tuesday's final round of Senate and Congressional primaries before election day.

In national terms, arguably the most significant results were the defeats of two sitting Democratic Congressmen, Stephen Solarz of New York and Chester Atkins of Massachusetts. Their downfall means that a post-war record of 19 House incumbents have lost re- election battles.

It also guarantees that, if the scores of Congressmen who have either retired or did not seek a new term are also taken into account, an unprecedented 100 new faces will be in the House which convenes next January.

Both men had been implicated in the House Bank scandal, while Mr Solarz was additionally a victim of redistricting which carved up his previously safe seat. But he could yet find himself back on Capitol Hill, thanks to the primary victory of the late Ted Weiss in a rock-solid Democratic district on West-side Manhattan.

A day after he died of heart disease, voters gave the hugely popular Mr Weiss a massive 88 per cent mandate. His replacement will now be nominated by the local party. Yesterday the signs were that Mr Solarz, one of Congress's leading foreign policy specialists, could well be chosen to fight the seat.

In the Senate contests, however, it was women who made the headlines. In New York, the brawling Democratic primary to produce a challenger to the sitting Republican, Alphonse D'Amato, appeared to end the hopes of Geraldine Ferraro, the Democratic Vice-Presidential nominee in 1984, to re-emerge as a force on the national political scene.

With 99 per cent of returns in, she was still trailing the state's attorney-general, Robert Abrams, by 10,000 votes. But yesterday Mrs Ferraro, who had come under withering attack in the final stages of the campaign for alleged links to organised crime, was refusing to concede defeat until postal votes were also counted.

But 3,000 miles away, in Washington state, a woman did prevail. The little-known Democrat Patty Murray broke through to become favourite to win the seat of the outgoing Senator, Brock Adams, who was forced to resign this summer after a spate of sexual harassment charges. Her victory means that the women's contingent in the 100-strong Senate could jump from the current two to as many as seven in the new term.

The final twist came in Washington DC itself. Barely five months after his release from prison following a cocaine conviction, the capital's former mayor, Marion Barry, won a massive primary victory. This triumph virtually guarantees him the Ward 8 seat, representing the poorest black neighbourhoods, on the DC council.

For Mr Barry's devoted followers it was a sweet moment indeed, offering hope that their neglected crime-ridden community might even be able to stage a resurrection like his own. But the renewed proximity to power of a man who came to epitomise Washington's social problems will do little to advance the District of Columbia's chances of early statehood, despite promises to that effect by the Democratic presidential candidate, Bill Clinton.

The struggle for the White House itself, meanwhile, took two new turns yesterday. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, the erstwhile quasi-candidate Ross Perot dropped his heaviest hint yet that he may re-enter the race. Despite his withdrawal in July, Mr Perot is still on the ballot in 49 states. Tomorrow, Arizona is almost certain to become the 50th.

Meanwhile, the first televised candidates' debate, scheduled for next Tuesday, has been cancelled, following the refusal of President Bush to accept the single moderator suggested by the bipartisan Presidential Debates Commission. Negotiations are continuing between the Bush and Clinton camps, and a new date and format could yet be agreed.

(Photograph omitted)

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