The White House officially supports Sen. Robert C. Smith (R-N.H.) in his hard-fought reelection bid. But that didn't stop it recently from chastising the senator's office over comments concerning campaign fundraising, an Arab American and alleged terrorist groups.

In a rare intraparty battle involving an incumbent, many Republicans are backing Rep. John E. Sununu's effort to wrest the GOP senatorial nomination from Smith in next September's primary. Sununu (whose father was a New Hampshire governor and White House chief of staff) has Lebanese Palestinian ancestors, and the latest campaign contretemps touched indirectly on his heritage.

It centers on George Salem, a Washington lawyer who chaired Arab Americans for Bush-Cheney 2000. Salem, a friend and major contributor to the president, also is raising money for Sununu.

Until recently, one of Salem's clients was the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development. On Dec. 4, Bush ordered the foundation's assets frozen because it allegedly supports the Middle East terrorist group Hamas.

Citing Salem's connections to the Holy Land Foundation and Sununu's campaign, Smith's campaign manager called on Sununu to screen his donors more rigorously.

"The people of New Hampshire want someone in the U.S. Senate with clear, concise views on terrorism," said Corey Lewandowski. "They'll judge a congressman based on the people he associates with, his voting record and his campaign contributions."

Friends of Sununu condemned the comments.

"The politics of ethnic slurs and bigotry have no place in any campaign," former New Hampshire governor Steve Merrill told the Manchester Union Leader.

Former senator Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.) said Lewandowski's comment was "so bad, it reeks. . . . Good luck to them if they think this will help their campaign. Bob Smith is a better human being than that, and he ought to tell his people to watch themselves."

Presidential spokeswoman Jennifer Millerwise said in an interview Thursday: "The White House called Senator Smith's office. . . . Remarks that paint Arab Americans with a broad brush aren't helpful. We need to reassure Arab Americans that this war is about al Qaeda, not Islam. Mr. Salem is a good friend of the president's and an honorable man."

Smith's press secretary, Lisa Harrison, defended the senator and Lewandowski.

"Our campaign was merely responding to media inquiries" about Salem's fundraising, she said. "Senator Smith has repeatedly said this campaign is about records -- Congressman Sununu's record and Senator Smith's record. Someone's ethnic background has absolutely nothing to do with this election."

Smith angered some Republicans when he briefly abandoned the party in 1999 to run as a conservative independent for president. Merrill and Rudman are among those who encouraged Sununu to challenge the senator.

Osama in Burqa? New Jersey state Sen. Diane Allen (R) is contemplating a run for the U.S. Senate seat held by Robert G. Torricelli (D). She opposes the death penalty, which could put her at odds with many voters, especially during the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

The Trenton Times recently quoted Allen, in rather graphic terms, assuring voters that she's no softy: "What I would say is that if bin Laden is not killed, I would hope that he would be captured, brought to America and that they would remove every part of his body that can be identified as male, make him wear a burqa and then send him back to Afghanistan and see what happens to him."

Patton vs. Bunning Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton (D) says he intends to challenge Sen. Jim Bunning (R) in 2004, the Kentucky Post reports. "I believe that I can certainly do a better job for Kentucky and I'm going to try to do that," the governor told the paper.

Sen. Robert C. Smith (N.H.) is backed by White House over Rep. John E. Sununu (N.H.).