ST. PAUL -- President Bush told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he wasn't standing in the way of a U.S. Senate run by Minnesota House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty.
"I guess he can run for the Senate if he wants to," Bush said.
Last week, Vice President Dick Cheney called Pawlenty on behalf of Bush and asked him not to run, saying it would avoid a costly and bruising primary fight with St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman.
The White House backs Coleman, who led Bush's campaign in Minnesota.
Cheney's call derailed the political plans of Pawlenty, who already had scheduled a news conference for later that day to announce his candidacy. Pawlenty said he backed out "for the good of the overall effort" of unseating Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn.
"I wasn't privy to Dick's phone call with him. If he wants to run, he's welcome to do so," Bush said in an interview with The AP in Washington.
Pawlenty chuckled when he was told what the president said Wednesday, but said the remarks didn't immediately change his mind.
"All I can say is that the vice president called and he said he was calling on behalf of the president," the Eagan Republican said. "It sounds like the president is being diplomatic in his comments."
"If he wants to follow up with me -- Well, I guess that's how it started before," he said.
White House aides talked to Pawlenty the evening before Cheney called, asking him not to run.
"I told them if it's that important, have him call me," Pawlenty said.
"When the leader of the country asks you to do something, that's something I'm going to pay deference to," Pawlenty said.
The decision marks the third time this election cycle Pawlenty has received conflicting messages from party leaders.
He originally was most interested in running for governor, but was encouraged to run for Senate instead by two former party chairmen. A draft committee had collected more than 700 names of supporters who wanted him to run for the Senate.
Then, Cheney called asking him not to run for Senate. Now, Bush says go ahead.
Pawlenty said he'll make a decision in the next few weeks whether he'll return to his original plan of running for governor.
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