President Reagan, fighting to keep his Supreme Court nomination of Robert H. Bork alive, yesterday urged the Senate to ignore a ``campaign of disinformation and distortion'' against the conservative. In a White House speech to supporters, the President said his nominee represents the mainstream of American legal thought, and he hotly disputed the idea that Mr. Bork is a radical who would upset the balance of the court.
``I do not believe the United States Senate will succumb to allowing the special interests to choose Supreme Court members,'' he said.
The President's comments were the latest in a series of speeches designed to counter recent polls that have shown the public is turning against Bork.
Later in the day, Reagan's predecessor, former President Carter, added his name to those opposing Bork's confirmation, denouncing the nominee's views in civil rights cases as ``particularly obnoxious.''
``Only recently, with the vision of a seat on the Supreme Court providing some new enlightenment, has Judge Bork attempted to renounce some of his more radical writings and rulings,'' Mr. Carter said in a letter to Judiciary Committee chairman Joseph Biden. The letter was released at the hearings.
Earlier, Reagan took issue with Sen. Alan Cranston's prediction that the Supreme Court nominee is ``licked.'' The Democratic senator from California said 49 senators are likely to oppose Bork, 40 are likely to favor him and 11 are undecided. ``I'm very optimistic,'' Reagan told reporters.
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Tuesday the administration has launched a new drive to woo votes. Bork has been meeting with individual senators and Reagan will be lobbying senators in person and by phone.
At the hearings, meanwhile, Senator Biden said yesterday he expects the panel will vote Tuesday on sending the Bork nomination to the full Senate. There now appears virtually no chance that the panel, which has eight Democrats and six Republicans, will give Bork the favorable recommendation given most nominees.
Biden mentioned the likely vote next week at the start of the final day of confirmation hearings. Before the session got under way, Cranston and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont, announced their opposition to Bork. Both had been expected to oppose confirmation.
Leadoff witnesses yesterday included New York Attorney General Robert Abrams and Attorney General Charles G. Brown of West Virginia, both of whom attacked Bork's views on antitrust. Bork opponents have said the nominee would allow mergers of large companies, leaving only two or three firms to compete in major product lines or services.
Abrams told the panel ``a wide array of anticompetitive practices, which have been specifically outlawed by statute or settled Supreme Court precedent, would be rendered lawful if Judge Bork's antitrust views held sway.''
Two other Democratic senators announced their opposition Tuesday: Paul Simon of Illinois and Bill Bradley of New Jersey.