Senate Republicans launched a vigorous defense Friday of John Tower's nomination as defense secretary, arguing Tower's fate should not be left to "fiction, innuendo and rumor" from unidentified witnesses.

Democrats countered that the FBI report contained unrebutted allegations from credible witnesses, and noted that the White House relied on the report in nominating Tower and knew full well his nomination would be controversial.As debate entered a second day on Tower, a 24-year Senate veteran who once chaired the Armed Services Committee that recommended his rejection, Republicans raised warning flags that the debate was turning into a purely partisan fray, suggestions rejected by Chairman Sam Nunn, D-Ga.

Tower, meanwhile, got a morale boosting visit at the Pentagon from President Bush.

"The basic rule of American fairness (requires) that we decide the matter on fact and fairness, not rummor and innuendo," said senior committee Republican John Warner of Virginia. "We cannot let fiction, innuendo and rumor determine the outcome of this nomination. We should look at the facts and judge John Tower as we judge ourselves."

"President Bush knew full well we would be proceeding with an FBI report filled with allegations . . . rebuttals in considerable detail. It is that record on which the Bush administration has asked us to rely," countered Nunn.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, an ardent Tower supporter, noted that Winston Churchill was a heavy drinker, as Tower once was.

"The standards before this Senate are on trial. Never in my life have I seen John Tower inebriated. I've never seen him when he wasn't in control of his faculties. I've never seen him be less than an absolute Southern gentleman to women. Now who's entitled to greater weight on the floor of the Senate - those people in the FBI report or me. And that's the problem for the Democrats in this body. He is my friend. I thought he was your friend, and I want some justice for my friend," said Stevens.

The White House struggled against the odds, trying to find at least five Democrats willing to side with the 45 Senate Republicans and give Tower a chance to take over the Pentagon. No Democrat was known to have crossed over, and Sen. Larry Pressler, R-S.D., Thursday night again signaled he might vote against Tower over concerns about his commitment to procurement reform.

The final vote is not expected until next week, and a United Press International survey showed 11 members either undecided or not saying how they will vote. Those leaning for or against Tower did so largely along party lines.

At no point in the debate was Tower's professional competence or knowledge of national security issues challenged, and a number of Democrats, including Nunn, said they had started out ready to vote for Tower, but changed their minds as the evidence against Tower evolved.