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INHOFE warns Bush not to put off conservatives

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ President Bush's stance on several issues, including the suspension of Navy bombing exercises in Puerto Rico, could cost him the support of conservatives, U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe said.

``There's a propensity _ his daddy did the same thing _ to get elected and move to the left,'' said Inhofe, R-Okla. ``If he does, he's going to lose the conservative base, which is the base that does the work in the trenches, and he won't get re-elected in 2004.''

Inhofe has clashed with the Bush administration on other issues, including the education bill backed by Bush.

Inhofe also has complained that a new environmental policy would interfere with oil refineries and has questioned Bush's commitment to increasing defense spending.

After Bush's decision to end bombing on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques by 2003, Inhofe wrote an open letter to military personnel pledging to block the action.

Inhofe said he helped draft a law to set up a referendum in Puerto Rico on the bombing to prevent former President Clinton from stopping the training exercises.

``I never thought I'd have to use it on a Republican president,'' he said.

But Inhofe and other conservatives don't worry that Bush is abandoning his conservative principles.

Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., noted Bush's strict budget allocations and appointments such as Attorney General John Ashcroft as proof of his conservative tendencies.

Gov. Frank Keating, R-Okla., said as a conservative he likes what Bush is doing.

``For Bush to go to Europe and stand by your guns on missile defense was remarkable,'' Keating said.

The governor also pointed to Bush's fight to push through tax cuts as proof he's not forgetting conservatives.

Inhofe said Bush's action on campaign finance reform and health care reform will be watched closely by conservatives.

``If Bush were to sign the campaign finance reform bill that passed the Senate and the patient's rights bill now before the Senate, that would be serious cause for concern among conservatives,'' he said.
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