THE CIVIL WAR which has split both the Republican and Democratic parties in Virginia, insin the contest for a US Senate seatendins, has escalated with the former Democratic governor bolting the party. At the very moment that Senator Chuck Robb was winning the Democratic primary his chances of re-election were damaged by former governor Douglas Wilder, with whom he has long feuded, filing as an independent candidate.
Republican party leaders in Washington are worried that the selection of Colonel Oliver North, a conservative hero since the Iran-Contra scandal, will be used by the Democrats to portray them as extremists. At the same time they need to take Chuck Robb's seat if they are to hope to win control of the Senate away from the Democrats in the November elections. in November.
Senator Robb, badly damaged by allegations about his sex life when he was governor of Virginia in the early 1980s, easily won the Democratic party primary with 58 per cent of the vote but on a very low turn-out. Any hope he had that he could lead a united Democratic party against Colonel North was immediately dashed when Mr Wilder, the first black governor of Virginia, delivered two boxes containing the necessary number of petitions to get himself on the ballot. to the State Board of Elections in Richmond.
There are now four candidates in the race. Colonel North's selection at a convention attended by 14,500 Republicans in Richmond at the start of the month provoked Marshall Coleman, a former attorney-general of Virginia, standing as an independent. Multiple candidates are not unknown in American elections but in Virginia each one stands a chance of winning.
An opinion poll this week showed Senator Robb ahead with 28 per cent but the other three candidates are all within seven points of him. None are without strength. Colonel North has celebrity, money and organisation. Chuck Robb has the Democratic Party and money. Douglas Wilder has black and labour support. Marshall Coleman , the least well known of the candidates, was boosted this week by getting the support of Ross Perot's organisation in Virgiania which in the 1992 presidential election won 14 per cent of the vote.