By Alicia M. Cohn - 09/12/11 11:19 PM EDT
Tim Pawlenty’s endorsement of Mitt Romney might help the former Massachusetts governor deflect criticism of that state’s healthcare plan, but likely won’t help him pick up support from the Tea Party movement.
Healthcare is seen as one of Romney’s most vulnerable issues, with critics pointing out similarities between the Massachusetts and national healthcare laws.
The former Minnesota governor had criticized Romney on the issue up to a point — 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.
“I’ve talked with Mitt about this at length,” Pawlenty said on Fox News when he announced his endorsement. “Mitt Romney is 100 percent committed to repealing ObamaCare.”
Pawlenty’s endorsement doesn’t touch Romney’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 Romney’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 Romney’s ticket as the vice presidential candidate should Romney win the GOP presidential nomination.
“I’m going to do what I can to help Mitt in this race, but that won’t be part of the future for me,” Pawlenty said on Fox Monday morning. “I’m not going to consider being VP. I was down that path once before, with John McCain, and I’m not even going to consider that.”
Bonjean said Pawlenty would be a long-shot candidate for Romney’s vice presidential pick now that he is playing what appears to be an active role in Romney’s campaign as national co-chairman.
“They’re already utilizing him for what they need right now,” Bonjean said. “They may need to pick someone down the road to buttress their weaknesses or add to their strengths.”