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Former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder abandoned his independent run for the Senate Thursday after two polls showed him far behind his fellow Democrat and longtime rival, Sen. Charles S. Robb.

Wilder's withdrawal reduced the chance that a split among Democrats would hand the seat to conservative Republican Oliver North. Independent Marshall Coleman is the third remaining candidate in a hard-fought race crucial to Republican efforts to win control of the Senate in the Nov. 8 election."I have seen that the two-party system in Virginia is strong and that the difficulty in financing independent candidacies is real," Wilder said in a statement.

Wilder on Wednesday abruptly canceled two campaign events in Roanoke and returned to Richmond, immediately creating speculation that he would break his pledge to remain in the race until the end.

"I have said that I was in this campaign for one reason only, and that was to win," Wilder's statement said. "Though I don't attach great significance to polls, they are influential, and the influence on financing capabilities is great. Mainly for that reason, I don't feel that I could raise sufficient funds for any winning effort to take place."

"I am a realist," Wilder said. "I know when to hold them and when to fold them."

Wilder entered the presidential race in September 1991 but withdrew four months later, saying he needed to attend to state budget problems.