The crazy-quilt race for the U.S. Senate in Virginia has begun to clarify somewhat now that former Gov. Douglas L. Wilder has quit his wildcat bid in what had been a raucous, four-way battle royal. But the contest in the Old Dominion remains a long way from anything like sanity.
Mr. Wilder's departure leaves his long-time nemesis, incumbent Sen. Charles Robb, with a more or less unifed state Democratic Party to fend off Republican challenger Oliver North, of Iran-contra fame. Mr. North's nomination at the party convention last spring prompted former GOP gubernatorial candidate J. Marshall Coleman, whom Mr. Wilder defeated in 1989, to jump into the race as an independent. Mr. Coleman is backed by Virginia's Republican Sen. John Warner, who detests Mr. North and his shenanigans almost as thoroughly as Mr. Wilder detests Senator Robb.
Talk about complicated!
The ostensible reason for Mr. Wilder's withdrawal was his low standing in the polls, which he said prevented him from raising the $1.5 million aides advised he would need to run a credible media campaign. But he did not want to lose an election for the first time, and he hardly wanted to be remembered as a spoiler who split his party and helped Mr. North win.
Mr. North, however, insisted that Mr. Wilder's departure would help rather than damage his campaign by presenting "a very clear" liberal-conservative choice. The former Marine lieutenant colonel has long tried to discount Mr. Coleman's impact on the race by emphasizing a head-to-head battle with Mr. Robb.
It may be that Mr. Coleman cannot be dismissed so easily, that he will siphon off Republican and undecided voters from Mr. North. Recent polls show Mr. North slightly ahead of Mr. Robb -- a lead that could evaporate quickly if Wilder supporters return to the party fold. Mr. Robb is doing everything he can to make it easy for them -- even to the point of publicly praising Mr. Wilder. Let's hope Mr. Wilder's exit helps defeat Mr. North, a man who should not be in the U.S. Senate.