Attorney General Dick Thornburgh will resign next month to run for a U.S. Senate seat from Pennsylvania, President Bush said Tuesday. Thornburgh, a popular ex-governor of the state, will likely be heavily favored to reclaim the seat of the late Republican Sen. John Heinz, who was killed April 4 in a plane crash.
The job is currently held by newly appointed Democratic Sen. Harris Wofford, who will oppose Thornburgh in a special election this November for the remaining two years of the Heinz term.
Wofford, 65, a first-time candidate, was named last month by Democratic Gov. Robert P. Casey after a number of better-known and more experienced Democrats turned him down.
There was no immediate word of a successor to Thornburgh at the Department of Justice. Among those whose names have figured in recent speculation are former California Gov. George Deukmejian; former Illinois Gov. James Thompson; White House counsel Boyden Gray; deputy Attorney General William Barr; Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo.; Sen. Warren Rudman, R-N.H.; Secretary of Transportation Samuel Skinner; and Jay B. Stephens, U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.
Thornburgh, a holdover from the Reagan administration, was never regarded as an insider in the Bush administration, and the manner in which his departure was made public reflected his role as something of an outsider.
Bush, after discussing the Senate race with Thornburgh at the White House on Monday and again Tuesday, announced the resignation to reporters at a photo opportunity preceding a Cabinet meeting.
During Thornburgh's years at the Department of Justice, many of the crucial decisions that ordinarily would be made by the attorney general _ recommendations to the Supreme Court and administration positions on civil rights and on abortion _ were made for him at the White House, primarily by Gray and chief of staff John Sununu. Thornburgh was not centrally involved, for example, in the selection of David Souter to the Supreme Court.
Thornburgh will remain in his job until at least the end of July to help lobby support for the administration's crime and civil rights measures, said Bush, who praised Thornburgh's "wisdom and his support."