By Alicia M. CohnÂ -The Hill
Tim Pawlentyâ€™s endorsement of Mitt Romney might help the former Massachusetts governor deflect criticism of that stateâ€™s healthcare plan, but likely wonâ€™t help him pick up support from the Tea Party movement.
Healthcare is seen as one of Romneyâ€™s most vulnerable issues, with critics pointing out similarities between the Massachusetts and national healthcare laws.
Pawlentyâ€™s endorsement will help deflect some of the criticism, according to Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist who now works for public-relations firm the Bonjean Co. â€œIt takes Pawlenty off the table as an outside adversary to Romney,â€ he said, although he pointed out that Romney will likely still be challenged on the topic in the lead-up to the primary elections.
The former Minnesota governor had criticized Romney on the issue up to a point â€” his refusal to do so during a June presidential debate started his campaign on a downward trend he never recovered from.
On Monday, Pawlenty began his defense of Romney.
â€œIâ€™ve talked with Mitt about this at length,â€ Pawlenty said on Fox News when he announced his endorsement. â€œMitt Romney is 100 percent committed to repealing ObamaCare.â€
Pawlentyâ€™s endorsement doesnâ€™t touch Romneyâ€™s biggest weakness, according to Bonjean, which is a lack of Tea Party support, especially in comparison to his primary competition, Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Perry is a favorite of the conservative grassroots movement.
On other issues, Pawlenty and Romney have found agreement, including their opposition to the early troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and labor union issues. Pawlenty blasted the National Labor Relations Board suit against Boeing, which Romney targeted on Monday in a labor policy speech in South Carolina, where Pawlenty appeared onstage as a surprise guest during opening remarks.
Following the announcement of his endorsement, Pawlenty spent the day with Romneyâ€™s campaign, traveling with the candidate from South Carolina in the morning to the CNN/Tea Party debate in Florida on Monday evening.
However, Pawlenty quickly shot down speculation that he would join Romneyâ€™s ticket as the vice presidential candidate should Romney win the GOP presidential nomination.
â€œIâ€™m going to do what I can to help Mitt in this race, but that wonâ€™t be part of the future for me,â€ Pawlenty said on Fox Monday morning. â€œIâ€™m not going to consider being VP. I was down that path once before, with John McCain, and Iâ€™m not even going to consider that.â€
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