WASHINGTON, Feb. 1 (AP) - The Senate voted Thursday to confirm John Ashcroft to be U.S. attorney general, giving President George Bush a victory in his first battle with congressional Democrats.

Eight Democrats joined all 50 Republicans in the 58-42 vote in favor fo the former Missouri senator. The number of votes against the nomination, all from Democrats, represented the biggest rebuke of a one-time Senate colleague, since 1989 when the Senate rejected Bush's father's nomination of former Texas Sen. John Tower to be secretary of defense.

Conceding weeks ago that they couldn't stop Ashcroft, Democratic leaders' goal had been to muster enough votes -- at least 41 -- to show Bush they have the ability to defeat conservative nominees in the future, particularly candidates for any Supreme Court vacancy, by staging a filibuster.

``His nominees for the Supreme Court would better serve the nation if they came from the middle,'' said Sen. Charles Schumer, a Democrat.

The chamber's top Democrat, Minority Leader Tom Daschle told reporters his party would cooperate on moderate nominations. ``But we're going to be very concerned when they come from the far right, and we'll use whatever means necessary.''

Ashcroft was to be sworn into office later Thursday by Justice Clarence Thomas in a private ceremony at the Supreme Court. Thomas and Ashcroft shared an office in the 1970s as assistant state attorneys general in Missouri.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said moments after a Senate majority had voted for Ashcroft that Bush ``will be very pleased to have his Cabinet in place and ready to work for the American people.''

``The votes have been bipartisan, and this vote by definition, too, is bipartisan,'' Fleischer said.

Forty-one was the magic number of votes against Ashcroft for Democrats. That is how many are required to kill a nomination using the procedural delay of a filibuster.

In this case, Daschle said, Democrats abandoned the idea of a filibuster because Ashcroft, a Missouri Republican, is a former colleague, and because many believe a president deserves to choose his own Cabinet members, none of whom are lifetime appointees.

Ashcroft's successor in the Senate, Democrat Jean Carnahan of Missouri, voted against her family's longtime political rival. Her late husband, Gov. Mel Carnahan, defeated Ashcroft posthumously after a plane crash during their campaign, and Jean Carnahan was appointed to what would have been his seat in the Senate.

Mrs. Carnahan said Ashcroft ``was just too divisive for our country.'' She called her vote ``an act of conscience.''

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., also voted against Ashcroft, whom he said he has known for 40 years.

Lieberman, who as Democratic vice presidential nominee last year spoke frequently of his religious beliefs, denied conservatives' charges that Democrats' opposition was sparked by Ashcroft's outspoken commitment to his own Christian views.

``On issues ranging from civil rights to privacy rights, Senator Ashcroft has repeatedly taken positions considerably outside the mainstream of American thinking,'' said Lieberman, adding later, ``It is Senator Ashcroft's record, not his religion, we should judge today.''

Ashcroft is a Pentecostal Christian who is outspoken about his theological opposition to abortion and homosexuality. His beliefs about race have also been called into question by liberals.

``Moderation is not a word which enters into his political thinking,'' said Sen. Paul Sarbanes, who also jopposed Ashcroft. ``In my view, he's had a consistent record of being at the extreme, of taking positions well outside the mainstream.''

Republican Senate Majority Whip Don Nickles said he was ``bothered by the intensity of opposition'' to Ashcroft.

``I have absolute, total, complete confidence that he is going to be one outstanding attorney general of the United States,'' Nickles said. ``He's as qualified as anybody probably has ever been to be attorney general.''

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