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DeConcini and Durengerver Announce Senate Retirements

By Helen Dewar
The Washington Post

WASHINGTON

Veteran Sens. Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., and Dave Durenberger, R-Minn., scarred by scandals and plagued by formidable re-election problems, announced Thursday they will retire from the Senate at the end of their third terms next year.

Durenberger, facing criminal charges that he defrauded the government, and DeConcini, bearing multiple wounds including an ethics committee rebuke for his involvement with savings and loan executive Charles H. Keating Jr., were their parties' most threatened incumbents.

In addition to their own vulnerabilities, the decisions reflected a widespread apprehension among lawmakers of both parties as challengers across the country prepare to mount a repeat performance of the kind of outsider, anti-Washington campaigns that triumphed in many races last year.

Three other longtime senators -- John C. Danforth, R-Mo., Howard M. Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, and Malcolm Wallop, R-Wyo. -- had already announced their decisions to retire next year. Wallop faced the possibility of a tough re-election fight, but none of the three faced anything like the troubles of DeConcini and Durenberger.

While Durenberger's decision came as no surprise, DeConcini's was a shock even to his staff, which had been counting on a long, hard campaign. The Democratic National Committee had just finished running television ads in Arizona touting DeConcini as a hero for voting last month to pass President Clinton's tax and budget package, and DeConcini was in the midst of setting up his campaign organization and raising a huge warchest.

But polls taken for news organizations showed Arizona Secretary of State Richard Mahoney closing in on DeConcini in the Democratic primary and Republican Rep. Jon Kyl running ahead of him in early soundings for the general election -- by 20 percentage points in one poll. Another poll indicated that DeConcini's approval rating had fallen by 17 points, to 42 percent in the last three months.

DeConcini, 55, said at a news conference at his Phoenix office that he regretted leaving some work unfinished but was glad to be through with campaign fund-raising, implying that this was a major reason for his decision not to run again. ``I detest that part of it. I just have had enough of all the BS that goes along with it,'' he was quoted by the Associated Press as saying.

It was fund-raising by Keating on behalf of DeConcini and four other senators, who intervened on Keating's behalf with federal regulators, that led to the high-profile ``Keating Five'' ethics case. The ethics committee found that DeConcini broke no Senate rules but engaged in conduct that ``gave the appearance of being improper'' and exhibited ``insensitivity and poor judgment.''

DeConcini also faced controversies over family land deals, an image as a flip-flopper that went back to the Panama Canal controversy of the late 1970s and was reinforced by switches on Clinton's budget and a long-since-abandoned pledge to serve only two terms in the Senate.

In a telephone interview, Mahoney praised DeConcini's service to Arizona and the country and said he thought ``it very much of a personal decision -- he thought he'd served well and wanted to move on to other things.'' Another source close to DeConcini said the senator was ``just fed up with everything.''

DeConcini said he thought he could have won re-election, and Mahoney said he thought DeConcini was sincere in that view. DeConcini aides said the senator made the decision not to run again last weekend.

In his statement, Durenberger made no reference to his legal difficulties, alluding instead to his ``20 years of fulltime public service,'' which he said was ``a long time for a Republican raised in Minnesota's tradition of citizen legislators.''

He wanted to continue public service ``but not as a fourth-term U.S. senator,'' Durenberger told a news conference on the steps of the state capitol in St. Paul that was hastily put together after word leaked that he had decided against running again. Durenberger had been planning to announce his decision this weekend at a state GOP convention.

A major Republican player in the debate over health care reform, Durenberger said he would concentrate on the issue in his final months in office, saying his decision not to seek re-election ``clears the deck for me to seize this opportunity of a lifetime.''

Durenberger, 59, was denounced by the Senate in 1990 for ethical misconduct in connection with a book promotion deal and reimbursements he took from the Senate for staying in a Minneapolis condominium that he owned. He was indicted early this year on fraud charges stemming from the condo deal and faces trial in January.

A paternity lawsuit was dismissed last month after tests showed that the child was not his.