By Rachel E. Stassen-Berger

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a possible 2012 Republican hopeful, backtracked off his criticism of U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, a moderate Republican.

"She is absolutely welcome and has been welcome for the party. She has been elected and re-elected by the people of Maine and the Maine Republican Party for 20 years," Pawlenty said last night.

Earlier this week on MSNBC, Pawlenty said: "We want Olympia Snowe in the big tent but she can't say she's a Republican and then vote against the Republican position much of the time," Pawlenty said. "If she disagrees with everything, that's a problem."

He had avoided saying that he was glad she is a Republican on MSNBC. His comments raised a Snowe-storm, reaction from national media and Snowe herself.

Last night, he stepped back off the doubts he he voiced about her and he said he hadn't chosen his words well.

"I didn’t say it artfully but what I meant to say and tried to clarify was that… Ronald Reagan said it best, if you agree with us most of the time you are our friend, not your enemy. That certainly applies to Sen. Snowe. She has been involved in the party for a long time. I respect her and of course she is welcome and admired in the party," he told reporters Wednesday.

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