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Thornburgh Makes Resignation Official : Politics: The attorney general will leave office Thursday to run for the Senate. Deukmejian is among those mentioned as a possible replacement.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh announced his resignation Friday to begin a campaign for the U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, thus ending a period of awkward limbo and concluding his sometimes-stormy tenure as head of the Justice Department.

The departure of the former Pennsylvania governor had been widely expected but was delayed for months while courts wrangled over how the Senate seat for which he will run, left vacant by the death in April of Republican Sen. John Heinz, should be filled.

The attorney general is to leave office Thursday and will be succeeded at least temporarily by Deputy Atty. Gen. William P. Barr, a 41-year-old New Yorker who is held in high regard by senior White House officials.

The second official identified by Administration sources as a leading candidate to replace Thornburgh is Solicitor General Kenneth W. Starr, a 45-year-old former federal judge who is known for his keen conservative legal mind and is often mentioned as a possible Supreme Court nominee.

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Others described as potential replacements include Gov. John Ashcroft of Missouri and Carla Anderson Hills, the U.S. trade representative. But officials noted that, if Ashcroft were to leave office, he would be succeeded by a Democrat. And Hills is believed to hold abortion rights views that could make her a target of the Republican right.

Two others mentioned as possible candidates are Transportation Secretary Samuel K. Skinner and former California Gov. George Deukmejian. But Skinner is understood to have told the White House that he is not interested in the post, and Deukmejian associates say he appears dedicated to his new job in a Chicago-based law firm.

In addition, Arnold Burns, who served as deputy attorney general in the Ronald Reagan Administration, is understood to be campaigning aggressively for the job.

Thornburgh moves toward what promises to be a fiercely fought special election in which he will challenge interim Democratic Sen. Harris Wofford to fill the remaining two years of Heinz’s term. Heinz was killed when his small plane collided with a helicopter last spring.

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President Bush, in accepting the resignation, praised Thornburgh for his “crucial and courageous leadership” and said that he will be the “strongest possible candidate” for the vacant Senate seat. In a sign that the rough-and-tumble of the campaign already has begun, Wofford immediately challenged Thornburgh to a debate.

Thornburgh, 59, leaves an office that he first occupied nearly three years ago in the waning days of the Reagan Administration. His tenure was marked almost from the start by clashes with Congress and the press.

In recent weeks, the Justice Department has faced a new round of attacks by former government officials charging that it moved too slowly to investigate wrongdoing by the Bank of Credit & Commerce International. An even more recent controversy erupted when Justice Department lawyers filed a legal brief in Wichita, Kan., in support of anti-abortion demonstrators who have sought to block abortion clinics.

Thornburgh in effect has been a lame duck since last spring, when he announced his plans to resign and run for the Senate, only to postpone them after a state court ruled that the special election to fill Heinz’s seat was unconstitutional.

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The waiting period forced Thornburgh to maintain an uncharacteristic low profile to avoid the appearance that he was running for the Senate while still in the Justice Department. An appeals court ruling this week finally set the campaign in motion.

With the resignation expected for so long, some White House aides said that they believe Bush may already have narrowed his choices to a short list of possible successors.

But, with the nominations of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court and Robert M. Gates to head the CIA still facing tough Senate fights, several officials suggested that Bush might not be in a hurry to nominate a new attorney general--at least until Congress returns after Labor Day.

“We’ve got two fights already,” one official said. “This is vacation. No one wants to pick a third.”

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