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updated 2/17/2011 9:28:40 AM ET 2011-02-17T14:28:40

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine is reconsidering his initial reluctance to run for a Virginia Senate seat in 2012, officials said Wednesday as Kaine spoke by phone with President Barack Obama about the race.

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The conversation with the president came as Democrats urged the former Virginia governor to launch a campaign to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Jim Webb. It was confirmed by a White House official and a Democratic Party official who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly.

In a White House interview with WWBT-TV of Richmond, Va., Obama said the decision will be Kaine's, according to the station's political news blog.

Video: Sen. Jim Webb won't seek re-election (on this page)

"I want to hear what he wants to do," Obama said. "I think he would be a great senator from Virginia if he chose to do that."

Obama, who is close personally and politically to Kaine, played down his influence over the former governor's decision in the interview, wrote Ryan Nobles, who conducted the interview which was to be fully aired Thursday morning.

'Clearly he's thinking about it'
Separate from the Obama-Kaine telephone call, several Democratic officials said Kaine was weighing the decision and wants more time to think about it. They spoke on condition of anonymity because Kaine has not made a decision.

"I think his view is it's on the table right now and that he owes it to himself and to Virginia and the party to give it some thought," said one Democratic strategist familiar with Kaine's thinking. "Clearly he's thinking about it and he's not a definitive no, or this would have been done already."

Virginia Democrat Sen. Jim Webb won't seek re-election

Democrats see Virginia as a pivotal state in the 2012 election. Obama won it in 2008, and having a solid Senate candidate on the ballot next year would boost his chances of repeating. The race also could help determine control of the Senate, where Democrats hold a 53-47 majority.

Party leaders consider Kaine their best candidate after Webb announced this month that he's retiring after one term.

Video: A look at the Democrats going forward

The White House declined to say whether Obama pressed Kaine to run. The two are close. At Obama's request, Kaine agreed in 2009 to moonlight as DNC chairman in his final year as governor, a move that drew some criticism at home.

Kaine previously said he had no interest
Before Webb's retirement announcement, Kaine said repeatedly he had no interest in running, but party leaders say that may have been in deference to Webb.

"I have reason to believe he's reconsidering," a well-connected Virginia Democrat who favors his candidacy said Wednesday.

Democrats must defend 23 Senate seats next year, including two held by independents. Many are in swing states such as Virginia where Republicans hope to mount strong challenges. By contrast, only 10 GOP-held seats will be on the ballot.

Virginia Republican George Allen, a former senator and governor, is again seeking the GOP nomination, along with tea party activist Jamie Radtke.

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Kaine comfortably won the 2005 gubernatorial race after four years as lieutenant governor to popular Democratic Gov. Mark R. Warner, now Virginia's junior U.S. senator. Virginia governors cannot serve back-to-back terms.

He presided over Democratic gains during the first three years of his term. He helped Webb oust Allen in 2006 and bankroll and campaign for a Democratic takeover of the state Senate in 2007 and was influential in 2008 making Obama the first Democrat since 1964 to carry Virginia in a presidential race.

But in 2009, Kaine could not deliver a Democratic successor as Virginia Republicans ended an eight-year losing skid with sweeping victories for all three statewide offices. And last year, the GOP won in another romp, negating the three U.S. House seats that Virginia Democrats captured in 2008.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Sen. Jim Webb won't seek re-election

  1. Transcript of: Sen. Jim Webb won't seek re-election

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: There was news earlier in the day from Washington that a prominent senator has chosen not to run for re-election. Virginia Democrat Jim Webb , a decorated Marine Corps veteran from the Vietnam War , former Pentagon official, a published author, won his race narrowly and will just serve a single term. His departure could strengthen GOP chances of regaining the Senate .

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