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George W. Bush rakes in donations and some criticism

GREENWICH, Conn. -- George W. Bush, the man in the monogrammed cowboy boots, reconnected Tuesday night with the Yankee roots he so often plays down, at the end of a day in which his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination gave him his harshest taste yet of the political perils that lie along the campaign trail.

On the final stop of his first campaign swing, Bush was showered with $1.3 million at a dinner crowning him the adopted favorite son of Greenwich, which considers itself ground zero for Bushes, although the candidate himself has never lived there.The instant embrace by a crowd of more than 1,000, few of whom had ever met the Texas governor but almost all of whom revere his parents, seemed fitting for a campaign so mysteriously turbocharged that even Bush himself claims not to understand the engine driving it.

But on Day 4 of his road show, conservative opponents rose up to criticize him for a statement he made in New Hampshire on Monday about prospective judicial appointees in a Bush administration. Bush said then that he would nominate judicial conservatives to the federal courts but would not require them to share his views on specific issues, including abortion.

"There will be no litmus test," he said, "except for whether or not the judges will strictly interpret the Constitution."

In the past, Bush has voiced a general opposition to abortion while acknowledging the constitutional right to it found by the Supreme Court. He has also expressed a preference for changing people's minds on the issue rather than changing the law.

The distinction appears to be an important part of Bush's strategy of projecting conservative values while trying not to alienate his party's moderate wing, including voters who support abortion rights.

In any event, his latest remarks on the matter brought fire from his closest challenger, Elizabeth Dole, who said through her spokesman, Ari Fleischer, that any federal judge she appointed would have to share her "general philosophy" of opposition to abortion except in the cases of rape, incest or pregnancy that endangered a woman's life.

Two other rivals, Patrick Buchanan and Sen. Bob Smith of New Hampshire, were much blunter.

"Governor Bush's response is grossly inadequate," Buchanan said from Manchester, N.H. "After 40 years of liberal judicial activism, we must have Supreme Court nominees dedicated to overturning the abomination called Roe vs. Wade."

And Smith said Bush was trying to "have it both ways," posing as an opponent of abortion rights while allowing the possibility that his judicial nominees would hold a different view.

All this, along with similar criticism from other challengers, was a preview of the whiplash Bush can expect in the days ahead as he greets huge and largely unskeptical crowds at the same time that his rivals are firing at the same target -- him.

As much as Greenwich is money country, it is Bush country. Bush's grandfather, the late Prescott S. Bush, was moderator of the Greenwich Representative Town Meeting before becoming a U.S. senator from Connecticut. The Greenwich establishment has also fancied itself the "favorite hometown" of the governor's father, former President George Bush, even though he was born in Massachusetts, summered in Maine and kept his official address at a hotel in Houston.

From the time he campaigned for governor in 1994, one of Bush's stock lines has been that the fundamental difference between the two George Bushes is that his father went to Country Day School in Greenwich, where people want to know who your parents are, and he went to Sam Houston Elementary School in Midland, Texas, where the kids wanted to know if he could hit a ball.

In other tellings, he mentions San Jacinto Junior High in Midland. Either way, the tale does not take into account his later stops at Phillips Academy, Yale University and Harvard Business School. Although his campaign Web site finds space for the names of his dog and his three cats, it omits mention of his birthplace: New Haven, where his father was studying economics at Yale.

Tuesday night, organizers acknowledged Bush's new life with a "Star of Texas" theme that added fruit salsa and lemon-sage sauce to the roast breast of chicken and pink grapefruit to the green salad. Larger donors were listed on the program as "Longhorns," while the next category down was "Lonestars."