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The Morning Line: Days Later, Pawlenty Lands Clean Jab at Romney

BY David Chalian and Terence Burlij  June 17, 2011 at 9:12 AM EDT

It was Hillary Clinton, in the last presidential campaign, who said that there are no “do-overs.”

Tim Pawlenty clearly begs to differ.

Back in the safety and comfort of a Fox News studio Thursday with Sean Hannity, the former Minnesota governor sought to clean up his widely criticized debate performance in New Hampshire on Monday night.

“I should have been much more clear during the debate, Sean. I don’t think we can have a nominee that was involved in the development and construction of Obamacare and then continues to defend it. And that was the question, I should’ve answered it directly; instead I stayed focused on Obama,” Pawlenty said.

“But the question really related to the contrast with Governor Romney, and I should have been more clear, I should have made the point that he was involved in developing it, he really laid the groundwork for ObamaCare and continues to this day to defend it. I think that’s a legitimate point in response to the question I was asked and I should have been more clear.”

The Hannity interview came a few hours after Pawlenty took to his Twitter feed to begin mopping up his mess.

“On seizing debate opportunity re: healthcare: Me 0, Mitt 1. On doing healthcare reform the right way as governor: Me 1, Mitt 0,” he tweeted.

Pawlenty also upped his rhetoric even before the clever “Obamneycare” line he used on “Fox News Sunday” earlier this week. Try to imagine how many times this video clip would appear on television if Romney emerges the nominee and Pawlenty is under consideration for the VP slot.

“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 our nominee if that’s who it turns out to be in a very difficult spot. And I understand that Governor Romney argument that it is different at the state level. When you look at these two plans with only modest variations they are very similar and nearly identical,” Pawlenty told Hannity.

Pawlenty’s effort to make the rhetorical correction demonstrates two key dynamics at play. First, the pre-season is over. The Pawlenty campaign felt that the debate criticism would continue to hang over them as they race against the June 30 fundraising clock and that the narrative must be changed. The candidate and his advisers realized that they were beyond the point of letting some bad press slide or just hang out there, unaddressed.

The second dynamic at play is the launch of full and direct engagement between the candidates. The debate Monday night was largely an anti-Obama affair. Many subsequent debates will have that as a theme as well, but you can be certain that when a moderator attempts to get two candidates to engage directly, there will be less caution on the part of the candidates to do so.

BUMPS IN THE ROAD

For the second time this week Mitt Romney has released a web video slamming President Obama for his record on job creation.

Just like the one unveiled Monday, the new video released Friday, called “20,000,000 Bumps in the Road,” uses the president’s comments from a speech earlier this month that “there are always going to be bumps on the road to recovery.”

This time around the video also highlights a quote from White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, who earlier this week responded to the initial Romney effort by saying that “bump in the road is exactly what the president said … we are headed in the right direction.”

The text “Right direction?” then appears on the screen, followed by six voters saying “I’m an American,” with a seventh adding, “not a bump in the road.”

Another line of text then appears on the screen, reading: “President Obama’s 20 million bumps in the road would stretch from the White House to Los Angeles … and back.”

During a stop in Tampa Thursday morning, Romney told a group of unemployed Floridians that he too was one of the president’s bumps in the road. The New York Times’ Jeff Zeleny had the story first.

“I should also tell my story. I’m also unemployed,” Romney joked, drawing laughs from those seated around the table at a coffee shop. One of the men then asks Romney if he’s on the online networking site LinkedIn, to which a laughing Romney responds, “Yes, actually. And I’m networking.”

“But I have my sight on a particular job I’m working for so I know exactly where I’m aiming,” Romney added.

Democrats wasted little time pouncing on Romney’s comments. Seeking to contrast Romney’s situation (worth hundreds of millions of dollars and unemployed by choice) with out-of-work Americans struggling to make ends meet.

“Equating his run for the presidency with the difficulties of these honest hard-working Americans is shocking and is a reflection of his inability to comprehend the struggles of the American people,” Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a statement.

While Romney’s “unemployed” joke does not rise to the level of John McCain’s “the fundamentals of the economy are strong,” it’s clear that the campaign season is fully upon us, and any stumble (or bump in the road, if you will) will not be treated as a laughing matter by the candidates, or their opponents.

WEINER RESIGNS

Anthony Weiner could no longer withstand the pressure from his party leaders, including President Obama.

He took to a senior center in his congressional district in Brooklyn Thursday afternoon to announce his resignation from Congress in the wake of the sexting scandal that has dominated the headlines over the last three weeks.

The New York press corps, especially the tabloids, will be sorry to see this one go.

New York Post: “Weiner’s Rise and Fall”

New York Daily News: “Stick a Fork in Weiner” 

New York Times: “Weiner Resigns in Chaotic Final Scene”

Shortly after Weiner’s announcement, President Obama chose not to dance on his political grave and, instead, offered words of hope and support in an interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts.

“I wish Rep. Weiner and his lovely wife well,” Mr. Obama said. “Obviously, it’s been a tough incident for him, but I’m confident that they’ll refocus and he’ll refocus, and they’ll end up being able to bounce back.”

It is now up to Gov. Andrew Cuomo to set a date for the special election to replace Weiner. The Empire State has had quite a bit of practice holding special elections for disgraced House members of late. (See: Lee, Chris; Massa, Eric)

But the seat may not be a prize worth seeking. The 9th congressional district is widely believed to be on the chopping block in the redistricting process underway in Albany.

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