Explosive fight on if Oliver North runs for Senate: Iran-Contra figure set to stand in Virginia

Click to follow
The Independent Online
HE HAS the looks, and name- recognition will hardly be a problem. He has a political agenda - strongly conservative and anti-homosexual - and it seems he has even laid the groundwork to raise the necessary money. Oliver North, they say, is ready to run for election as a US senator.

This, indeed, is the same Mr North, who, with square jaw and military hair-cut, just six years ago was fending off questions on Capitol Hill over his crucial role in the illegal policy of swapping US hostages for arms and channelling the proceeds to Contra rebels in Nicaragua.

Those appearances, of course, were the source of his fame and, though at first convicted of lying to Congress and receiving illegal payments, the retired Marine lieutenant-colonel was acquitted on appeal in 1991. In the meantime, he had become a hero to conservatives nationwide.

The stage for his expected political debut is Virginia, which votes next year on whether to re- elect its junior senator, a Democrat, Charles Robb. Recently acquitted on charges of bugging the telephone of the state's Governor, Douglas Wilder, Mr Robb himself is no stranger to controversy. Mr Wilder, meanwhile, may fight Mr Robb for the Democratic nomination.

So far, Mr North, who would run as a Republican, has said nothing about his intentions. For over a year, though, he has been criss-crossing the state to attend Republican functions - 100 of them in 1992 - and raising money, partly for a political organisation he founded in 1990 called the Freedom Alliance. Few doubt that he will shortly declare his candidacy.

He recently landed himself in trouble with civil rights groups over anti-gay quips he made at a Republican 'roast' in his honour. Stereotyping homosexuals, he said he had recently only managed to get through on the White House switchboard by speaking with a lisp.

A further flavour of Mr North's views can be gleaned from the mailings of the Freedom Alliance. A recent newsletter portrayed the Clinton era as 'The Gay 90s'. In a personal message on the goals of the Alliance, Mr North said it would combat the 'increasingly imperious Congress, dominated by the far left and containing too many members mired in immoral personal behaviour'.

If Mr North does enter the Virginia ring, the sport for political spectators should be entertaining. All three contenders - and there may be others - are nationally known. Mr Wilder is America's first black governor and made a brief try for the presidency in 1992. His dispute with Mr Robb over the alleged telephone-tapping was well-publicised and very nasty. Although Mr Robb was acquitted, members of his staff admitted to having a tape-recording of Mr Wilder on the telephone.

Though the personal antagonisms themselves would guarantee a brutal campaign, widely diverse political opinions would add to the volcanic mix. Mr North would doubtless press his opposition to allowing homosexuals into the military - a policy espoused by President Clinton and supported by Mr Robb, who is also a former marine.

'This campaign could qualify for the scorched earth category,' Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, told the Washington Post. 'You run out of adjectives. 'Incendiary' just isn't strong enough. It would be a nuclear meltdown.'

While Mr North may draw large crowds, it is not clear if he could win in Virginia. The Iran- Contra hearings may have given him fame, but in the end must also represent significant political baggage, notably by scaring away an important swathe of moderate Republicans.