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David Wilkins, shown with U.S. President George W. Bush in the South Carolina legislature, headed Bush's two campaign efforts in the state. (AP Photo)

U.S. President George W. Bush has officially nominated David Wilkins, a longtime family friend and top Republican fundraiser, to be the new American ambassador to Canada.

The White House made the announcement on Wednesday night, ending weeks of speculation that Bush had chosen Wilkins, a lawyer who has served as house speaker in the South Carolina legislature since 1994.

The appointment must still be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

If approved, he will replace Paul Cellucci, who left the ambassador's job in March.

Wilkins, 58, was to be named to the post earlier in April, but Bush delayed the announcement to travel to Pope John Paul II's funeral in Rome.

A father of two, Wilkins is a fiscal and social conservative who headed Bush's two campaign efforts in the state.

He raised more than $200,000 US for Bush in last year's election and is close to the president's father, George H. W. Bush.

It's less clear how much he knows about Canada. The Associated Press reported that Wilkins had only been to the country once, about three decades ago while he was in the U.S. Army Reserve.

He reportedly passed on previous offers of an ambassadorship to Chile and a federal judgeship offered by Bush in 2001.

Rumours about his appointment were fuelled by news media reports earlier this month in Columbia, S.C., sparking a race to replace him in the state legislature.