WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- During her first term in Congress, Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.) worked to improve veterans' facilities in her Westchester County district and was a staunch supporter of Israel.
But in the past few weeks, the effervescent second-term lawmaker was booed and heckled off the stage at a veterans' rally here in White Plains, got a chilly reception at a Scarsdale synagogue and has been quietly criticized by friends and leaders in Jewish organizations.
The reason: her vote last month to deny President Bush the authority he sought to wage war on Iraq.
While personally bruising to Lowey, who is 53 and Jewish, the response doesn't appear to have drawn any political blood. Nonetheless, having won her district by only 3 percentage points four years ago and nervously awaiting the outcome of redistricting, she doesn't go looking for trouble.
When she recently followed a strongly pro-war rabbi on the program at a Rye synagogue, for instance, she avoided any mention of her vote, focusing instead on support for U.S. troops and the need to safeguard Israel's position.
And last week, when she did talk about the vote in a series of town meetings from the tree-lined roads of Armonk in the northern end of the 20th Congressional District to the gritty, urban streets of Yonkers in the south, Lowey described it as a vote to "reserve the use of military force."
The speech her staff distributed at meetings wasn't the one she delivered in voting against giving Bush authority to start the war, but the one she gave condemning Iraq for firing Scud missiles at Israel.
And a yellow ribbon, a gift from a constituent to honor U.S. soldiers in the Middle East, has become a permanent part of her wardrobe, held in place on the lapels of her brightly colored jackets with an American flag pin.
Lowey, who entered public service under New York's then-Secretary of State Mario M. Cuomo (D), said she didn't have a strategy of how to deal with the fallout from the vote. "All I could do was be honest about it," she said.
In her town meetings, Lowey portrayed the decision as an intensely personal one. "In the final analysis, you had to close that door and struggle with yourself and your own conscience and come to a decision you could live with," she told about 50 people in a White Plains Public Library meeting room.
That approach has won over some critics. "I was initially disappointed by her vote," said Betty Berenson of Scarsdale, the vice president of the local Zionist Organization of America chapter who supported Bush's request. "But when I understood it, I respected it. . . . I respect and support Nita."
The vote was especially difficult for Jewish lawmakers, torn by their generally liberal attitudes and their support for Israel. In the House, 17 Jewish members voted against giving Bush the authority to wage war and 16 voted for it. In the Senate, five voted against the president and three voted with him.
For Lowey, who represents a district with areas of wealth and in which about one of every five voters is Jewish, a "no" vote risked alienating her political and fund-raising bases.
Before the Jan. 12 vote, Lowey was pressured by contributors, including New York attorney Bernard W. Nussbaum, who is her campaign's finance chairman and an advisory board member for the Washington Political Action Committee, a pro-Israel PAC.
"There is no question, in terms of financial benefits, there will be a negative impact," she said over a slice of pizza in a Tarrytown pizzeria. "I voted my conscience. And if that means I'll be a two-term congresswoman, then so be it."
But the vote doesn't appear to have hurt her among other Jewish supporters who opposed her decision. "We didn't agree with Nita, but Nita Lowey is one of the best friends we have in Congress," said Jonathan A. Herbst, a New Rochelle physician who is active in Zionist causes. "I don't think she lost any of her credibility in the Jewish community."
But Republicans hope it will give them a chance to win back the district, in which such GOP bastions as Bronxville and Pelham are offset by Democrats among the large Jewish populations in such areas as Scarsdale. "It will be a major campaign issue," predicted Anthony J. Colavita, Westchester County GOP chairman.
Some observers, however, don't think it will make much difference. "Nita's very strong in her district," said State Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky (D) of Greenburgh. "Even in the worst case, I don't think this changes the dynamics."