Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas vowed yesterday that he would "rather die than withdraw" his nomination. His increasingly bitter confirmation battle escalated into a no-holds-barred attack on his accuser, law professor Anita Hill, and open warfare broke out among Senate Judiciary Committee members.

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) accused Hill of "flat-out perjury" in part of her testimony Friday, while Sen. Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.) said letters, faxes and statements were pouring into his office from former law professors, people in Tulsa and others warning him to "watch out for this woman."

Thomas, appearing to be near tears at times and almost shaking with rage at others, said he believes outside groups opposed to his nomination had helped Hill "concoct" allegations that he had sexually harassed her when she was his assistant during the early 1980s.

"I would have preferred an assassin's bullet to this kind of living hell that they have put me and my family through," he told Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) near the start of a full day of testimony. At another point in the hearing, he said he expected to be a "sitting duck for the interest groups.

"I expected them to attempt to kill me. And yes, I even expected, personally, attempts on my life. . . . I expected people to do anything, but not this."

The ugly charges and uprecedented nature of the Senate hearings have gripped the nation. A Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that 55 percent of 513 people interviewed last night were inclined not to believe the harassment charges against Thomas. By nearly 2 to 1, those surveyed were more likely to believe Thomas's testimony than Hill's. But women were far less likely than men to believe Thomas. {Details, Page A21}

It was unclear how the hearings were affecting the Senate, which is scheduled to vote on Thomas's confirmation Tuesday night. A Washington Post survey of senators showed that most contacted were retaining their positions on Thomas. Last week, Thomas had seemed assured of confirmation with at least 54 votes.

The second day of the hearings exposed increasing tension on the committee. Democrats, angry and defensive about continued charges that they leaked the allegations, defended Hill and criticized Thomas for not even bothering to watch her testimony.

In a furious outburst toward the end of a long and tempestuous day, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) criticized his "pontificating colleagues, Democrat and Republican alike," and said he was "fed up with this stuff about how terrible this system is." Biden glared at Thomas even as he told him that "until the end, the presumption is with you."

Earlier, Biden described the 35-year-old Hill as an "incredibly credible witness," and -- like several other questioners -- searched in vain for a way to explain the irreconcilable accounts of the law professor and the judge.

The hearings started at 10 a.m. and ended earlier than expected, at 6:30, when it became clear that testimony from the next two panels -- one backing Hill, the other supporting Thomas -- would stretch into the wee hours and, more important, fail to make the morning newspapers and evening newscasts.

Biden, suggesting that a good night's sleep would help all involved, said the session would resume at noon today as the panel races to finish up before the scheduled full Senate vote at 6 p.m. Tuesday. The 14-member panel, which split 7 to 7 on the nomination three weeks ago, will not take another vote.

Thomas returned to the committee yesterday morning doing what had seemed impossible following his indignant testimony Friday night -- sounding even more defiant about the "inquisition" he was forced to endure and even more explicitly charging his opponents with racism. Hill is also black.

"I wasn't harmed by the Klan," he said. " . . . I wasn't harmed by a racist group. I was harmed by this process."

Thomas and Hatch engaged in a vivid discussion of sexual and racial stereotypes rarely spoken in public, no less detailed in a Senate hearing room where a nomination to the Supreme Court hangs in the balance.

Thomas stunned the room when he complained that Hill's charges that he bragged about his sexual endowment and prowess "plays into the most bigoted, racist stereotypes that any black man might face." Once again comparing his experience to a lynching, he said lynchings of black men and accusations of sexual misconduct against them were linked historically.

Emphasizing that Hill had added details to her account of Thomas's allegedly abusive behavior at the Education Department and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Hatch suggested that they were fiction, invented either by Hill or her backers to buttress her story.

Hatch expressed amazement that "this quiet, retiring woman" could know of such pornographic details as the name of "Long Dong Silver," unless she in fact heard of him from Thomas. Then he produced a 1988 federal court ruling in which a woman complaining of sexual harassment charged her alleged abuser with -- among other things -- leaving a photograph of "Long Dong Silver" on her desk.

"This is a public opinion that's available in any law library," Hatch said. "I'm here to tell you, I'm sure it's available there at the law school in Oklahoma. And it's a sexual harassment case." Hatch implied that Hill might have been more likely to read the opinion because it came from within the 10th Circuit, which includes Oklahoma. The case is a 1988 district court ruling from Kansas.

Hatch next went after another detail of Hill's allegations, what she described as the "oddest" episode, in which she said Thomas complained there was a pubic hair on the can of Coke he was drinking. Hatch held up a copy of the best-selling novel, "The Exorcist," and read from a scene in which a character talks about "an alien pubic hair floating around in my gin."

"Do you think that was spoken by happenstance?" he asked.

Thomas said he had never read the book and had seen only one scene from the movie.

Hatch was careful never to attack Hill directly. "I'm not going to find fault beyond that with Professor Hill," he said right after he implied she might have read about Long Dong Silver in the casebooks. "I liked her too. She presented herself well."

As it had Friday night, the White House said it was delighted with Thomas's presentation. "Judge Thomas has once again demonstrated the qualities of determination, sensitivity and leadership that make him an outstanding nominee for this Supreme Court," the statement said. "He has responded to the committee's interrogation with eloquence and forthright descriptions of his feelings and actions."

The enormous chasm between Thomas's and Hill's accounts widened further yesterday.

Thomas said he had no specific recollection of taking Hill out for a going-away dinner when she left the EEOC to teach law in 1983, although he said that would not have been an "unusual" practice on a staff where he thought of his personal assistants as family.

Hill has said Thomas warned her at the dinner that if she ever revealed his behavior, it would ruin his career, a statement Thomas categorically denied making at the dinner or anyplace else. His fuzzy memory on the dinner contrasted with his ability to recall with specificity a series of phone calls Hill made to him after leaving the agency.

Thomas also elaborated on the "several" occasions during his time at the Education Department when, he said, Hill invited him into her apartment for a soft drink or a beer after he drove her home from work -- an account that appeared to contradict Hill's testimony that she sought to minimize her social contact with the boss who was harassing her.

Hill did not mention any such incidents in her testimony Friday, but -- as related by senators questioning Thomas yesterday -- disputed Thomas's account and said he had been in her apartment only once, to help her install a stereo system.

Thomas said he did not remember that, but reiterated that he had been in her Capitol Hill apartment two or three times. Each time, he remembered, Hill's basketball-playing roommate, Sonia Jarvis, was there wearing a sweatsuit. But Jarvis, a close friend of Hill's, also apparently contradicted Thomas's account and corroborated Hill's. As related in Senate questioning, she said she remembered seeing Thomas in the apartment only once, helping with the stereo.

Specter's charge of perjury stemmed from Hill's answers to his insistent questioning about whether a committee staff member had told her Thomas would quietly withdraw under pressure if she made her allegation.

Hill initially said she could recall no such comment and later qualified that answer, saying that had been discussed as one possible outcome in a conversation with a law school classmate now on the staff of Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio).

Specter, emphasizing that Hill's changed testimony came after she consulted with her lawyer, seized on that statement, saying her sworn statements were "false and perjurious."

But Specter, like his Democratic colleague Sen. Howell T. Heflin (Ala.) and others, took Thomas to task for failing even to watch Hill's testimony, saying he was more than "a little disappointed" in that decision.

"I didn't see any reason to suffer through more lies about me," Thomas said.

As committee Republicans demanded an FBI investigation and Biden vowed an ethics inquiry into how Hill's allegations leaked, Metzenbaum and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), whose staffs first contacted Hill, denied that they or their aides were the source.

Simpson did not elaborate on the allegations he had received regarding Hill, but said the problem was that "nobody has the guts" to come forward publicly "because it gets tangled up in this sexual harassment crap." He then went on to say that he takes the issue seriously.

Simpson said Angela Wright, a second former Thomas employee who stepped forward to claim that he made sexually suggestive remarks to her, had gotten "cold feet" because of doubts about her credibility, and Thomas testified that he "summarily" fired Wright as his press aide because of reports she "referred to another male member of my staff as a faggot."

However, a Democratic committee aide said Wright was still "likely" to testify, even as other staffers cautioned against expectations that Wright, now an editor at the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, would make as strong a witness as Hill.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) expressed frustration with his Republican colleagues, saying outside the hearing room, "If they would just quit the speeches, quit the sloganeering, this country, this Senate would be a whole lot better off."