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Checking in on Tim and Mitt

Given the focus on health care, the 2009 gubernatorial races and 2010 congressional cycle, it’s surprising how much Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney have been in the news of late. Let’s check in on these two 2012 Republican presidential primary frontrunners.

Starting with the Minnesota governor, last week Pawlenty launched a new political action committee called Freedom First to being amassing funds for his expected ’12 bid. “T-Paw,” as he refers to himself (yes, on the site), is quoted in the inaugural press release saying that the “organization is dedicated to putting freedom first again in America. By helping candidates and translating our ideas into policies that everyone can relate to and support, we can turn back the growth of Washington and renew the promise of freedom.” The 285-word mission statement uses the word freedom or some variant 14 times. We got it, Guv: You’re for freedom–really, really, really for it. With such generic, conservative talking-point fodder, perhaps he should start going by the nickname “T-Pap.”

Despite the thin rhetorical gruel, Pawlenty boasts a promising profile for a potential nominee–a governor from the key swing region of the country, young and attractive and without a lot of the social issue baggage. He’s raising eyebrows. Newt Gingrich recently called him a “terrific talent…a very attractive guy [with] a good reform record.” Gingrich further told The Politico that Pawlenty will be a “player” in 2012 and that there “is every reason he should run, there is wide open field right now.” Politico’s Jonathan Martin earlier reported that, in addition to jetting around the country to raise dough, Pawlenty has assembled a top-notch support team boasting a variety of people with presidential-level experience, including advisers Terry Nelson, Sara Taylor, Phil Musser, Freedom First co-chairmen William Strong and former Rep. Vin Weber, and a corps of tech consultants.

As for Romney, he too is fundraiser-hopping across the country to rake in the bucks for his Free and Strong America political action committee. (I’m detecting a “freedom” theme here, aren’t you?) To bolster his image as a kingmaker and party leader, he’s done a fundraising event for Virginia gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell and will soon do one for New Jersey GOP nominee Christ Christie. “Should the former Massachusetts governor decide to run for president a second time, his team from the 2008 race would be largely intact,” The Hill’s Reid Wilson reports. “Veterans of the first race have stayed close, and they frequently get together when their former boss is in town.”

Stacking up side-by-side, Newsweek’s Andrew Romano argues persuasively that in a potential matchup against Romney in ’12 Pawlenty’s health care record could provide an advantage: “Assuming…Romney and Pawlenty do face off in the finals, Pawlenty has at least one distinct advantage: while Gov. Romney passed a universal health-care plan in Massachusetts that looks largely like whatever will come out of Congress, Pawlenty recently took the opposite tack, seeking to balance the budget by cutting millions of dollars in funding from MinnesotaCare, a government-supported insurance system for working-class Minnesotans that had previously slashed the state’s percentage of uninsured residents to one of the lowest levels in the country.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Allysia Finley agrees:

[T]here’s also one huge elephant in the room that Mr. Romney will have to clear if he decides to run in 2012: Massachusetts’ universal health care legislation, which hasn’t been popular with fellow GOPers. Indeed, it must pain Mr. Romney that so many Republican critiques of ObamaCare cite the cost overruns and other problems encountered by RomneyCare. As he geared up to run for president a few years ago, Mr. Romney notably switched his positions on abortion, gun rights, immigration and “don’t ask, don’t tell.” He won’t find it so easy to flip-flop on Romney care, and he apparently knows it. Mr. Romney is sticking to his guns by defending the Massachusetts plan.

I’ll go on the record right now as saying I don’t think that Romney will win the nomination. He had enough problems with the evangelicals and social conservatives, and he now has an equally bigger policy problem on health care. As for Pawlenty, I think he’s more likely to be on the bottom of the ticket.

UPDATE: Pawlenty will head to Iowa soon for an event.