The full field of Republican presidential candidates met on the same stage for the first time Monday night in New Hampshire, seven months before the first vote of the primary season. But the candidates mostly passed on opportunities to draw sharp distinctions between one another, seeking instead to establish a united front in their attacks on President Obama.
In particular, observers were scrutinizing the dynamic between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, widely perceived as the front-runner, and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who has sought to position himself as the more ideologically palatable alternative to Romney. Pawlenty exhibited restraint when, early in the debate, he was asked to explain a phrase he had coined — “Obamneycare” — to describe similarities between President Obama’s health reform law and a Massachusetts measure signed by Romney in 2006.
“In order to prosecute the case against President Obama, you’ve got to be able to show that you’ve got a better plan and a different plan,” Pawlenty said. When asked why he had criticized the Massachusetts law, Pawlenty demurred, saying, “I just cited President Obama’s own words that he looked to Massachusetts as a guide,” and added: “He’s the one who said it’s a blueprint, and that he merged the two programs.”