WASHINGTON (AP) — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a leading Republican contender for the White House in 2016, said Saturday he doesn't know whether President Barack Obama loves his country.

"You should ask the president what he thinks about America," Walker told The Associated Press while in Washington for a weekend meeting of the National Governors Association. "I've never asked him so I don't know."

Earlier in the week, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said during a dinner speech, with Walker in attendance, "I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America."

Democrats have assailed Giuliani for questioning Obama's love of country and urged the potential field of Republican presidential candidates to rebuke Giuliani for his comments.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, another possible 2016 candidate, said he didn't think it helps to question the president's patriotism or motives. Giuliani, Pence said, is "a great American" who is "understandably frustrated with a president who lectures us on the Crusades, but seems incapable of calling radical Islamic violence by name."

Walker, who has been amassing donors and headlines since a well-received speech last month in Iowa, has been a visible presence at the annual governors' meeting, participating in events and making himself available to reporters.

He said that if he does choose to run, he'll likely skip the step of forming a formal exploratory committee and instead transition straight from the political organization he launched to begin raising money to "an outright presidential campaign."

Walker didn't say when he'd make a decision but that "any reasonable candidate, whether it be my consideration or anybody else, has to be in by midyear." He said his state's budget was generally settled by the end of June.

"If I choose to be a candidate, you're not going to hear me say ill will about any of the other candidates," Walker said. "I'm going to talk about what I'm for. I think Americans are sick and tired of politicians that talk about what they're against and who they're against."

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Utah Gov. Gary Herbert joked about why he was tapped to be vice chairman of the governors group: "I am the only governor that's not running for president."

While the gathering is officially intended as an opportunity for members of both parties to discuss policy and good government, much of the talk in the hallways has centered on the presidential contest and the long list of governors considering runs.

Conspicuously out of sight Saturday was New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. While busy with meetings behind closed doors, he skipped the group's public events.