Bernard Sanders, the socialist who represents Vermont as an independent in the House, is expected to announce on Monday that he will not run for the Senate seat held by James M. Jeffords (R-Vt.) and will instead seek reelection to a sixth term, according to news reports in the state.

The decision would be a setback to Democratic efforts to cut into the Republican majority in the Senate, while boosting Democratic prospects for regaining a majority in the House.

While an independent, Sanders has been a member of the Democratic caucus, and he is counted as a Democrat in determining the numerical strength of each party. Sanders's staff refused to confirm or deny the reports, although one staff member noted that the House Democratic leadership has promised him a seat on the prestigious Appropriations Committee.

Sanders is popular in Vermont and is considered a strong favorite to win reelection. The Republican Party holds a 223 to 211 majority in the House, and Democratic leaders are pushing hard to break the GOP hold.

In polls, Sanders and Jeffords ran neck and neck, and Sanders generally was conceded to be the strongest opponent to Jeffords among those considering running.

Sanders's decision increases the significance of the Democratic Senate primary in Vermont. At present, two politicians are likely to run, state Sen. Jan Backus (D), who lost to Jeffords in 1994 by a 50-41 margin, and state Auditor Edward Flanagan (D).

Fellow POW Praises McCain

The presidential bid of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) received a boost from retired Vice Adm. James P. Stockdale, a fellow graduate of the Naval Academy and a fellow prisoner of war in Vietnam, who took strong issue with charges that McCain has a volatile and dangerous temper.

Stockdale, who was Ross Perot's running mate in 1992, declared that McCain is "solid as a rock." In a New York Times opinion piece yesterday, Stockdale said it is "blasphemy to smudge the straight-arrow prisoner-of-war record of a man who was near death when he arrived at Hoa Loa prison in 1967."

Citing his own experience, Stockdale wrote: "I know that pride and self-respect lead to aggressiveness and aggressiveness leads to a deep sense of joy when one is under pressure. This is hardly a character flaw. The military psychiatrists who periodically examine former prisoners of war have found that the more resistant a man was to harsh treatment, the more emotionally stable he is likely to become later in life."

Forbes Mum on Weyrich

Presidential candidate Steve Forbes is pointedly declining to comment on the controversial views of one of his most prominent supporters, Free Congress Foundation president Paul M. Weyrich.

Weyrich and William S. Lind, director of one of the foundation's centers, recently wrote that the United States should stop criticizing Russia for its military actions in Chechnya, the majority Islamic region within Russia.

"In fact, the Russian army in Chechnya is fighting for us, too, and for everyone who does not want to live under the oppression of Islam," Weyrich and Lind wrote. "A decisive Russian victory would be good news for Americans, at least for those Americans who still see themselves as part of Christendom."

A spokeswoman for the Forbes campaign said: "Regarding Weyrich's comments on Chechnya, we really don't have any comment." Weyrich, a leader of the conservative old guard, is one of Forbes's key backers in the conservative movement.