WASHINGTON – President Bush urged former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar to run for the U.S. Senate in a phone call this week, Edgar said Tuesday.
The seat is being vacated by fellow Republican Peter Fitzgerald.
Bush spokesman Scott Stanzel confirmed that the president encouraged Edgar to run on Monday, but he declined to provide more details.
Edgar said the president asked him to consider a run but wasn't pressuring him.
"He was gracious in calling and expressing his hope that I would seriously consider it and offered to help and campaign with me," Edgar told Chicago's WMAQ-TV.
Edgar called the odds of a run "50/50," and said his interest comes partly because the country faces tougher challenges than when he declined to run last time.
"For all practical purposes we are at war," he said. "And so I take that as a serious reason to look long and hard at getting back into the process."
Edgar met Monday in Chicago with the Washington-based staff of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, a group led by Sen. George Allen, R-Va., which helps recruit candidates for Senate races, committee spokesman Dan Allen said.
Edgar and "some of his people" met with the committee's executive director, Jay Timmons, and its political director, Patrick Davis, said Allen, who said he had no other additional information.
"I'm encouraged by the serious consideration Governor Edgar is giving the race," Illinois GOP National Committeeman Robert Kjellander said Tuesday. "It's a big step to take and a major lifestyle change. He's giving it due consideration. I'm cautiously optimistic that he will enter the race."
Stanzel previously said White House political adviser Karl Rove had spoken with Edgar in the middle of last week and also encouraged him to run.
Edgar, a moderate who has twice rejected party appeals to run for the Senate, has been courted again by Illinois party leaders after Fitzgerald's surprising announcement April 15 that he would not seek re-election.
Fitzgerald's decision leaves Republicans with an open seat in a state key both for their hopes of keeping their 51-48 edge in the U.S. Senate and re-electing President Bush. Kjellander quickly hailed Edgar as the party's "dream candidate" for 2004.
There is no declared GOP candidate, but possible candidates include former Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan and Illinois Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, who is chairwoman of the state GOP.
Democratic challengers began lining up last year. They include former Chicago school board president Gery Chico, multimillionaire businessman Blair Hull, state Comptroller Dan Hynes, state Sen. Barack Obama, Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas, businesswoman Joyce Washington and Metamora Mayor Matt O'Shea, a Republican who says he will run as a Democrat.
Edgar was encouraged to run for the Senate in 2002 and was seriously considering a run in 1998 before announcing he would retire from politics at the end of his second term as governor in January 1999. At the time, Edgar, now 56, conceded his health was a factor - he underwent quadruple bypass heart surgery in 1994, just before he won his second term.