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Bush Opens Drive for Court Nominee

Administration officials expressed confidence that Bush had found what he wanted -- a conservative judge with no written opinions, especially on abortion issues, that would fuel ideological conflict on the eve of the midterm election.

"I don't think it will be a hard sell at all, when you look at the man's record, experience, integrity and ability to deal with tough questions of law," Attorney General Dick Thornburgh said on ABC-TV's "Good Morning America."

Souter began preparing for the confirmation process by meeting with White House officials and Kenneth Duberstein, former White House chief of staff in the Reagan administration, who will shepherd him through the hearings.

Rudman, who hired Souter as a young lawyer when Rudman was New Hampshire attorney general, said he would escort the nominee personally to meetings with Senate leaders today and with Judiciary Committee members tomorrow. "I know him better than anyone else," he said, "and I'm going to do the honors myself."

At a brief photo session yesterday afternoon in Rudman's office, Souter confessed that "I really was in some state of shock" when he stood at Bush's side for the announcement Monday. "I was astonished." But White House officials said Souter was a strong contender from the beginning, having impressed Thornburgh and others with his intellectual qualities when he was being interviewed for the circuit court.

Barring a surprise discovery about Souter, most senators who ventured a judgment yesterday said he should be easily confirmed. Rather than question his qualifications, they fell to debating the propriety of asking him about abortion and other sensitive issues.

Sen. Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.) said, "I think it would be appalling to spend too much time, if any at all, on abortion," when the hearings begin.

But Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), another Judiciary Committee member, said, "He doesn't look contentious to me . . . but it's unrealistic to think he will not be asked about abortion, flag burning, the line-item veto and a lot of other issues. But I don't expect him to give us any clear-cut answers."

One of the few negative notes was sounded by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) who said he would have preferred if Souter, a lifelong bachelor, were a family man. But Hatch quickly backed away from the statement. "It came out wrong," Hatch said. "I did not mean that as criticism."

Staff writer Dan Balz, traveling with President Bush, contributed to this report.

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