Pawlenty Endorses Romney: Will It Help Attract Evangelical Support?

Touting his private sector experience, former Minnesota Governor and presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty endorsed Mitt Romney for president on “Fox and Friends” Monday. Though Romney's Mormon faith is seen as a hindrance, Pawlenty will add some evangelical credibility to the campaign.

“The next president is gonna have to lead on the economy and jobs in a historic way, and there's one candidate in this race who is unmatched in his skills and experience and talent when it comes to turning around this economy and growing jobs and that's Mitt Romney,” Pawlenty announced on Monday. “I think he's going to be a transformational and great president.”

Romney is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Some have wondered if evangelicals, who make up an important voting bloc in Republican primaries, would support a Latter-Day Saint for president, and Pawlenty could help bring Romney some much-needed credibility in evangelical circles.

Pawlenty is an evangelical Christian who attends Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minn., which is led by Leith Anderson. Anderson is also president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). In a poll conducted by NAE last June, Pawlenty won the most support among member pastors for president.

When Pawlenty was running against Romney for the nomination, their relationship was mostly amicable, but Pawlenty did criticize Romney for the health care reforms he helped implement in Massachusetts. Pawlenty referred to the health care reform bill passed under the Obama administration as “Obamneycare,” and made the argument that Romney's health care plan is basically the same plan as Obama's. Both plans, for instance, include an individual mandate to purchase health insurance.

Romney should not be the party's candidate, Pawlenty had argued, because he would lack credibility in his criticism of Obama's health care plan, dubbed “Obamacare,” considering he backed a similar plan in Massachusetts.

Pawlenty is now confident, however, that Romney will support a repeal of Obama's health care plan.

“I talked to Mitt about this at some length,” Pawlenty said. “For Republican primary voters, one of their main concerns is the repeal of 'Obamacare,' and Mitt Romney is 100 percent dedicated and committed to repealing 'Obamacare.' He has said on day one, when he's president, he's going to issue executive orders that will give states waivers from 'Obamacare' and then he'll take the additional steps to repeal it.”

Pawlenty also repeated Romney's position that health care reforms, such as the individual mandate, for states are appropriate, but it was wrong to require all 50 states to follow the reforms implemented by Massachusetts.

Romney's private sector experience also makes him well qualified to lead on economic issues, according to Pawlenty. “His experience in the private sector, amongst these candidates, is unmatched.”

Romney has criticized Texas Governor Rick Perry, the current frontrunner in the race, for calling Social Security a “Ponzi scheme.” When asked about that, Pawlenty said, “Governor Romney wants to fix Social Security. He doesn't want to abolish or end it ... He believes it should be reformed and fixed and I think that's the right approach.”

Pawlenty will now help Romney's campaign as national co-chair.

Pawlenty also said he would not consider becoming Romney's running mate, if he were to win the nomination. “I'm not going to consider being vice president. I was down that path once before with John McCain [in 2008]. I'm not even going to consider that,” he commented.

Pawlenty dropped out of the race after placing a distant third in last month's Iowa Caucus behind Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and Congressman Ron Paul (Texas).

His endorsement is good timing for Romney, who will face the other Republican candidates in a debate Monday night in Florida.

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