MANCHESTER, N.H. - Texas Gov. George W. Bush raised the character issue in his first campaign foray into New Hampshire yesterday, taking a swipe at President Clinton by saying it was important to uphold the dignity of the office.
Speaking before large audiences, Mr. Bush also promised to put strict constructionists on the federal bench and explained his opposition to racial quotas.
His reference to Mr. Clinton came at a press conference after an early morning rally in the coastal town of New Castle.
"When we put our hand on the Bible, we swear to uphold not only the laws but the dignity of the office to which we have been elected," the GOP presidential nomination front-runner said.
"It is a pledge I made to the voters of Texas and a pledge that I have upheld, so help me God," he said.
The pro-life Republican also said he would put "strict constructionists" on the federal bench but would not make their appointment contingent solely on their abortions views.
"My criteria will be the same as I applied in Texas: Do the judges share my overall philosophy and will they strictly interpret the Constitution as opposed to using the bench as a way to legislate?" he said.
"There will be no litmus test except as to whether the judges will strictly interpret the Constitution," he added.
One of his rivals for the GOP nomination immediately claimed his words indicated his opposition to legal abortion was equivocal at best and based only on a pragmatic desire to win.
"I was saddened but not surprised to learn today that Gov. Bush's compassionate conservatism does not extend to making sure that our courts restore protection to unborn children," Gary Bauer said in a telephone interview from Washington. "The governor said he has no `litmus test.' But litmus test is just a liberal curse word to prevent conservatives from actually defending our values."
Mr. Bauer said Mr. Bush's criteria "are the same murky requirements that gave us [Supreme Court] Justice Souter, a reliable vote for the Clinton-Gore pro-abortion agenda." When the Texas governor's father was president, he named Mr. [David] Souter to the high court.
But Mr. Bush already has the support of many prominent religious conservatives - including Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed - who not only know his position on the issue but approved it in advance out of their own pragmatic desire to see the basically pro-life GOP retake the Oval Office from the basically pro-choice Democrats.
Drawing large audiences and nearly 150 journalists in a state that already has been visited many times by his GOP rivals this year, the Texas governor also put a compassionate conservative face on his opposition to racial quotas in higher education.
Mr. Bush said it's important to ask whether minorities have access to education across the land.
"The answer is, they do," he said.
Universities, he said, should make their campuses attractive to minorities and should actively recruit them as students. …