Republican knives out over North Senate bid

THE civil war in the Republican Party over the candidacy of Oliver North for the Senate has escalated with the announcement by the sitting Republican Senator for Virginia that he will not support him in the election. Senator John Warner says he will support an independent, if, as seems inevitable, Col North is nominated by a convention of 14,500 Republican activists in Richmond this weekend.

A sign of the depth of the divisions between Republicans over Col North, the hero of the far right because of his role in the Iran-Contra affair, is that Senator Warner says he may even renounce his own party when he runs for the Senate in 1996. He says he fears the domination of the convention in Richmond by the right may discredit Republicans in the same way as the Republican convention in Houston in 1992 damaged President George Bush.

Republicans are increasingly worried that the row in Virginia, heavily publicised in the national media, may lose them the Senate seat of Charles Robb, a Democrat largely discredited by sexual scandal. If the Republicans are to break Democratic control of the Senate they need to pick up seats in conservative states like Virginia.

Denounced by Senator Warner as unfit to hold public office, Col North, despite his fame and unrivalled prowess at raising money, will have difficulty in winning votes from the centre. However, because the Republican nomination is by delegates attending a convention and not through a primary election by registered Republican voters, he probably has enough committed supporters to defeat James Miller, President Reagan's former budget director.

A surprise is that Mr Miller, a man of deeply conservative views, should be cast as the moderate. On some issues he is even to the right of Col North, disapproving of abortion for women even in cases of incest and rape. If Mr Miller is knocked out of the race Senator Warner says he will support an independent Republican named Marshall Coleman, thus splitting the Republican vote.

Democrats might expect to benefit from this except that Senator Robb, son-in-law of President Lyndon Johnson, has given a series of embarrassing explanations about his relationship with various women when he was Virginia's governor in the early 1980s. He denies having had affairs with any of them but then revealed that he was not counting oral sex. He is also involved in a long running feud with a former Democratic governor, Douglas Wilder, who may run as an independent and split the Democratic vote.

Senator Warner is not attending Saturday's convention in Richmond, saying instead that he is going to Europe to attend the 50th anniversary of D-Day. He says a Republican joked to him: 'You're going where the shooting has stopped.'

Although deeply resented by the far right, polls show that Senator Warner's position is popular in Virginia and his own standing in the polls is higher than ever. With his support the independent Republican candidacy of Marshall Coleman might start to become significant. He would also probably be able to win re-election for his own Senate seat in 1996 even if he bolted the Republicans.

Col North, whose career is based on his bravura performance before the congressional Iran-Contra committee in 1986, has been largely successful in claiming to be the standard-bearer of the right. Last year he was damaged by an article in the traditionally conservative Reader's Digest which quoted his former colleagues in the Reagan White House as saying that he is a confirmed liar about what he said and did. Col North now denounces the Digest, as well as the Washington Post and New York Times, as part of the corrupt 'establishment'.

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