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GOP quandary: how hard to swing at Sotomayor

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"If they attack her or bring her down in Bork-like fashion, they paint the worst picture of the Republican Party at a moment that the party needs to change its approach and its message," says Julian Zelizer, a congressional historian at Princeton University in New Jersey, referring to Senate Democrats' blitz of Judge Robert Bork, a Reagan nominee to the Supreme Court, in 1987.

"The attackers are going to come out of this nomination process much more bruised than the Democrats," he adds.

Rifts between conservative activists and GOP senators over how to deal with the Sotomayor nomination emerged early in the process.

Senators speak out

Senators appearing on Sunday talk shows distanced themselves from conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh’s charge last week that Sotomayor “brings a form of bigotry or racism to the court.”

“I don’t think that’s an appropriate description of her,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday.

“We should not demagogue race. It’s an important issue in our culture and our country. We need to handle it with the respect that it deserves and the care that it deserves,” he added.

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