In a reversal, Pawlenty slams Romney on health care

Ahead of tonight's GOP debate, Tim Pawlenty lashed out at rival Mitt Romney, coining a new term for the former Massachuetts' governor's health care law: "ObamneyCare."

In an interview with Fox News Sunday, Pawlenty trashed Romney's health care plan, which--like President Obama's--legally required individuals to obtain insurance. Romney has defended his bill against Obama's, insisting that states should be in charge of writing health care rules, not the federal government.

But Pawlenty called that argument bogus, insisting mandates are wrong whether on the state or federal level--and he sought to further link Romney's bill to Obama's, which is loathed by most Republicans.

"President Obama said that he designed ObamaCare after RomneyCare and basically made it ObamneyCare. We now have essentially the same features. The president's own words is that he patterned in large measure ObamaCare after what happened in Massachusetts," Pawlenty said. "What I don't understand is they both continue to defend it."

The former Minnesota governor's remarks mark a serious change of campaign strategy, as he struggles to gain momentum against Romney in the GOP primary. In recent months, Pawlenty had declined to criticize Romney on health care.

"I'm going to try and abide by Ronald Reagan's 11th commandment," Pawlenty said in March. "We are not going to talk negatively about other folks."

At a Fox News debate last month--which Romney did not attennd--Pawlenty again declined to criticize Romney's health care bill. "Governor Romney is not here to defend himself," he said. "So I'm not going to pick on him."

Pawlenty is clearly aiming to cast himself as an alternative to Romney, but he's struggled in early 2012 polls in part because most GOP voters still have no idea who he is. A new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll out today finds Pawlenty trailing the GOP field with just 3 percent support among likely Republican voters--17 points shy of Romney.

(Photo of Pawlenty and Romney in 2010: Craig Lassig/AP)

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