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Obama interrupts Hoeven's turkey pardoning

BISMARCK -- The fate of a 19-week-old turkey was left hanging in the balance Tuesday when Gov. John Hoeven had to leave his annual turkey pardon to take a phone call from President Barack Obama.

Ironically, Hoeven had just talked about building the suspense for the pardon.

"At this point, we don't know whether Tallulah (the turkey) is going to be pardoned or not pardoned," Hoeven said to laughter. "We're going to let that just hang there, you know, a little bit, the suspense build and grow."

Moments later, an aide told him that the president was on the phone, much to Hoeven's surprise.

"I suppose we best not ask him to call back," Hoeven joked.

Hoeven had been expecting a call from the president -- just not during the pardon event.

Hoeven, a Republican, said later that the call from Obama was mainly an outreach call to talk about working together. Hoeven begins his new duties as a U.S. senator in early January.

Hoeven said they talked about the economy and energy, and he encouraged the president to support extending the Bush tax cuts.

"The upshot was just to talk about working together in the new Congress to get the economy going, to provide good support for energy development and for agriculture and other things that I think are important for North Dakota and for our country," Hoeven said.

While Hoeven talked to Obama, Deputy Agriculture Commissioner Bob Christman stepped in to save the turkey.

"Tallulah, go back home. You're pardoned," he said to laughter.

The pardon ceremony also had a more serious aspect to it, with the North Dakota Turkey Federation donating 11 frozen turkeys each to the Abused Adult Resource Center and Ruth Meiers Hospitality House.

When Hoeven returned, he talked about what the day's event meant to him.

"It's to help feed the homeless, feed people that need a meal during this holiday season and, of course, it reminds us all how important it is, as we celebrate the holidays, to make sure that we think of others," Hoeven said.

Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co.