Thomas W. Ottenad, 77, a longtime political journalist who was a retired Washington bureau chief of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper, died of pneumonia Oct. 31 at the Winchester (Va.) Health Center. He had Alzheimer's disease.

Mr. Ottenad was assigned to the Post-Dispatch's Washington bureau in 1959 and served as bureau chief from 1981 to 1983. He then was a contributing editor here until retiring in 1988.

Over the years, he covered seven presidents and eight presidential campaigns. He was present in 1968 when Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-N.Y.) was shot in Los Angeles the night he won his party's California presidential primary. Mr. Ottenad also broke stories concerning the Watergate scandal and was credited with playing a major role in his paper's printing part of the Pentagon Papers.

Colleagues recalled that Mr. Ottenad was an early believer in the political viability of the 1976 presidential candidacy of former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter (D) and in the surprising strength of the challenge by Sen. Gary Hart (Colo.) to former vice president Walter Mondale for the 1984 Democratic Party presidential nomination.

He won national reporting awards for pieces he filed on the persistence of votings rights abuses in the South and on topics ranging from China to the environment.

As bureau chief, he established a beat to cover the increasing importance of women in the political process.

Mr. Ottenad, who lived in Lovettsville, was a 1943 Phi Beta Kappa English and philosophy graduate of Washington University in his native St. Louis. He worked for the St. Louis Star-Times, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, the St. Louis County Observer and CBS Radio in St. Louis before joining the Post-Dispatch in 1953.

Survivors include his wife, Jane, of Lovettsville.