President Bush (search) said Tuesday he welcomed John Edwards (search) as John Kerry's (search) running mate on the Democratic presidential ticket, even as Bush's party sharply criticized the North Carolina senator.

"I look forward to a good, spirited contest," the president said. But his re-election campaign and his party immediately cranked up their criticism of the North Carolina Democrat, calling him "disingenuous" and "unaccomplished."

Bush spoke with reporters in the Oval Office during a photo opportunity with the prime minister of Iceland, David Oddsson. He said Vice President Dick Cheney (search) had called Edwards to say he welcomed him to the race, "as do I."

Cheney placed the call just after 10 a.m. EDT to congratulate him, said Cheney's spokesman, Kevin Kellems.

"He thought it was the appropriate thing to do, and recalled the president having phoned Senator Kerry at a similar juncture, when it was clear he would be the nominee," Kellems said. He described the conversation as "brief and cordial."

"The vice president said that he looked forward to their debate, and a spirited campaign that he hopes will reflect credit on the process," Kellems said.

Cheney and Edwards are scheduled to debate in Cleveland on Oct. 5.

Bush sidestepped a reporter's question about whether he agreed with the Republican National Committee's charge that Edwards was "disingenuous." But his chief spokesman, Scott McClellan, did not disavow the characterization.

"Is there something in there that you're disputing?" McClellan said. "It's perfectly reasonable to talk about the differences on the issues and to talk about the record."

Bush travels to Edwards' home state Wednesday to meet with judicial nominees whom he says Senate Democrats have blocked from being confirmed.