WASHINGTON (AP) – The White House is trying to have it both ways in marketing Harriet Miers to disgruntled Republicans.

To conservatives, the president’s aides talk up a 1989 document showing she held clear anti-abortion views. Then they pivot and tell everyone else those were just the personal views of a candidate for the Dallas City Council and not a sign of how she might vote on the Supreme Court.

Bush emphasized last week that “part of Harriet Miers’ life is her religion.” Almost immediately, White House spokesman Scott McClellan complained that too much was being made of her membership in an evangelical Christian church.

Bush said he knows her heart and that she won’t change. Except she has. She was a Catholic when she was young. And she was a Democrat who turned Republican.

So far, the strategy seems to have made neither side happy. Social conservatives remain skeptical of her credentials and judicial philosophy, and Democrats are finding more reason to oppose her.

That the president seems to be speaking out of both sides of his mouth escapes nobody.

“They try to reassure conservatives that she’s pro-life. Then two hours later McClellan gets out and says this doesn’t say anything about how she would rule. I don’t think that was very effective,” said William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard magazine.

“If anything, it makes you stop and think, Wait a second,” said Kristol. “The case for this woman depends on a one-page, yes-or-no questionnaire from 1989? Isn’t this kind of a ridiculous basis on which to make a judgment on someone for the Supreme Court?”

Democrats were saying much the same thing but from the other side of the political spectrum. “We know less about this nominee than we knew about any previous nominee and her questionnaire shines no light on what would be the most illuminating experience – her service in the White House,” Rep. Charles Schumer of New York, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Wednesday.

The panel will begin confirmation hearings on Nov. 7. Democrats said internal documents related to Miers’ service as White House counsel were needed first.

Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Sam Brownback of Kansas broke with GOP colleagues and joined in the call for such documents.

To win, Bush needs to hold on to mainstream Republicans without losing too many social conservatives – while hopefully picking up the support of some Democrats. So far, no Republican senator has come out publicly against the nomination, although some like Brownback, a Judiciary Committee member, have expressed serious reservations.

Republicans hold 55 of the 100 Senate seats, so the arithmetic seems to favor the president. Yet the situation could change rapidly – either for better or worse for the White House – once Miers testifies.

“The hearings are really the place where they will get into more detailed questions about that judicial philosophy and about her record,” presidential spokesman McClellan said Wednesday. “She is someone who has a distinguished career and a long record of accomplishment.”

After John Roberts’ nomination as chief justice sailed through the Senate, the president encountered unexpected headwinds on his selection of Miers to succeed Sandra Day O’Connor. The sharpest criticism of the former corporate lawyer who was once Bush’s personal attorney came from the political right – Bush’s political base.

“The major message that came out of the hearings on Roberts was “Don’t send us an ideologue.’ And Laura Bush and Sandra Day O’Connor were both pushing for a woman. And Bush seemed to pick up on all that,” said presidential historian Thomas E. Cronin of Colorado College. “But Bush underestimated the reaction of the conservative elites, who are now ganging up on him.”

“The whole thing looks clumsy,” Cronin added.

In the past, Bush could count on the support of conservatives, even when his actions didn’t live up to his rhetoric on issues such as pushing for constitutional bans on anti-abortion and school prayer amendments and for a ban on gay marriage. No longer.

There is a “huge sense of disappointment” among conservatives, said Grover Norquist, president of the conservative Americans for Tax Reform. “We thought he’d hit a home run, but he hit somewhere between a single and triple.”

Fred Greenstein, a political scientist at Princeton University, suggested the need to do damage control over the flawed early response to Hurricane Katrina and to the CIA-leak investigation may have thrown Bush and his advisers off stride.

Miers might be a good choice for the court, but the nomination “needed more in the way of preparation and ground work,” Greenstein said. “Sometimes presidents either make bad choices or make defensible choices but don’t follow through and defend them.”

EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Raum has covered Washington for The Associated Press since 1973, including five presidencies.


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