WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty on Thursday called rival Mitt Romney a "co-conspirator" in President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, his sharp language a contrast to his refusal to criticize the former Massachusetts governor when they appeared together in a televised debate.
Pawlenty's debate performance Monday night in New Hampshire was widely panned in political circles, with critics contending that he appeared weak for failing to challenge Romney in person. A day earlier, on "Fox News Sunday," the former Minnesota governor had used the term "Obamneycare" to describe the similarities in the Obama health care law and the health care initiative Romney had led in Massachusetts.
In a Twitter post Thursday, Pawlenty conceded that he had failed to capitalize on the health care issue during the debate. He tweaked Romney again on the issue, giving Romney one point and himself zero points for "seizing debate opportunity" but then reversing the score in his own favor for "doing health care reform the right way as governor."
Appearing Thursday night on Fox News Channel, Pawlenty said he should have been clearer in his comments on the issue during the debate.
"I should have made the point that he was involved in developing, and he really laid the groundwork for, Obamacare and continues to this day to defend it," Pawlenty said.
Later in the Fox News interview, he added: "I don't think you can prosecute the political case against President Obama if you are a co-conspirator in one of the main charges against the president on a political level. And so, it really puts your nominee, if that's who it turns out to be, in a very difficult spot."
Similarities between Romney's health care initiative and Obama's overhaul — both require people to buy health insurance — have been a significant point of criticism for the Republican front-runner. Romney maintains that the so-called personal mandate was out of bounds for the federal government but correct for individual states to consider and employ.