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Key GOP senator calls Alito 'solid pick'

DeWine: Nomination doesn't meet deal's filibuster standard

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- While Republicans and Democrats geared up for a potential confirmation battle over Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, one moderate GOP senator said Democrats didn't have the necessary ammunition to shoot down the nomination.

Sen. Mike DeWine emerged Tuesday from a meeting with Alito and said the nominee is a "good, solid pick by the president" who doesn't present the "extraordinary circumstances" necessary to trigger a filibuster.

Nevertheless, the option already is being mentioned by some Democrats who say Alito, a judge on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, is too conservative to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

DeWine, an Ohio Republican, is one of the "Gang of 14" -- seven Senate moderates from each party who reached an agreement in May stating that Democrats wouldn't filibuster President Bush's judicial nominees except in "extraordinary circumstances," which the group did not define.

In return, the seven Republicans agreed to block any GOP attempt to use the "nuclear option" that would essentially nix filibusters as a viable tactic for thwarting judicial confirmations.

Other members of the group, which is expected to discuss Alito's nomination in a meeting this week, were more measured in their comments to reporters.

Numerous Democrats denounced Alito as a divisive choice, while Republicans -- including conservatives who derided Bush's failed nomination of Harriet Miers -- applauded loudly. (Reaction to Alito)

"Judge Alito is really, I think, in the mainstream of conservative thought and conservative judges in this country -- a very experienced judge," DeWine said. "It's hard for me to envision anyone thinking about filibustering this nominee."

A poll released Tuesday night found that initial public reaction to Alito's nomination was similar overall to that for Miers last month but less positive than it was for John Roberts in July.

Bush nominated Alito on Monday after Miers, the president's executive counsel, withdrew her name from consideration last week.

While Republicans questioned Miers' conservative credentials, other critics pointed to her inexperience -- both as a judge and with constitutional law -- and said her close ties to the president smacked of cronyism. (Bush calls Alito 'fair-minded and principled' -- 4:15)

The Republican response to the Alito nomination was a polar opposite. Gary Bauer, president of the conservative American Values organization, and televangelist Pat Robertson both called Bush's pick "a grand slam home run." (Watch a report on conservatives' enthusiasm for Alito -- 2:06)

Backers: No Scalia clone

While Alito's views have drawn comparisons to those of Justice Antonin Scalia, the nominee's defenders said Tuesday he would not blindly follow the staunch conservative's lead.

"There's no desire to separate him from Scalia," former Attorney General Ed Meese said. "I just want to negate this phony idea that he would be a rubber stamp."

Alito worked at the Justice Department when Meese was attorney general during the Reagan administration.

"I would not be at all surprised if Alito at times would differ with Scalia or [Justice Clarence] Thomas. There's no indication from his writings that he would follow lockstep with anyone," Meese said.

Adam Ciangoli, a former clerk to Alito, termed "unfortunate" suggestions that Alito is a Scalia clone. "He's his own man," said Ciangoli.

"They're just smart lawyers appointed by Republicans who happen to be Italian-Americans," said Ciangoli, a prominent voice in the conservative legal community.

"Just in terms of personality Alito is different from Scalia," Ciangoli said. "I've never seen any judge as restrained as Alito."

Democrats were less impressed, and some suggested Bush was merely attempting to placate the right wing held responsible for Miers' withdrawal. (Read about Miers bowing out)

"It was the extreme right wing of the president's own party that sank the previous nomination. I think many of us want to know why they are so ecstatic today," Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts said Monday.

The most likely bone of contention during the confirmation process will be Alito's stance on abortion, which concerns Democrats.

Karen Pearl, interim president of Planned Parenthood, has already announced her group's opposition to the Alito nomination, calling it "outrageous." (Watch how one abortion opinion could become a central issue -- 1:42)

James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, took Pearl's criticism as an endorsement. "Any nominee who so worries the radical left is worthy of serious consideration," he said.

Alito's opinion on the abortion case that established a right to privacy, Griswold v. Connecticut, was noted by Sen. Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican who supports abortion rights, said Monday that Alito told him the decision in the case was "good law."

"We'll be interested in Judge Alito's views on following precedents," Specter said. "There is a lot more to the issue of a woman's right to choose than how you may feel about it personally."

DeWine, who opposes abortion rights, said he is "comfortable" with Alito despite Specter's remarks.

Poll reveals gender gap

The CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll conducted Tuesday suggested a gender gap, with men viewing Bush's pick more favorably than women -- a disparity not seen for either Miers or Roberts.

If Alito is confirmed, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg would be the lone woman on the court.

Fifty percent said Democrats in the Senate would be justified in using a filibuster to prevent Alito's confirmation, while 40 percent said they would not.

In the telephone poll of 603 adult Americans, 43 percent of respondents said they thought Bush's choice was excellent or good, while 39 percent said it was only fair or poor.

The margin was within the question's sampling error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

The positive view of Alito's selection was about the same as it was for Miers after her nomination in October. After Roberts was nominated in July, the poll found 51 percent with a positive view of his nomination.

But the poll found that while 47 percent of men interviewed thought Bush's choice of Alito was excellent or good, only 39 percent of women thought so. That question had a sampling error of plus or minus 7 percentage points.

Two-thirds of conservatives found Bush's choice excellent or good, compared with 58 percent for Miers and 77 percent for Roberts.

Respondents were evenly split at 38 percent on whether they thought Alito would vote to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

But 53 percent said the Senate should not confirm Alito if he would vote to overturn Roe, and just 37 percent said it should.

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