Manchester, New Hampshire (CNN) – Tim Pawlenty said Monday that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's health care record will be "fair game" at this evening's Republican presidential debate.
"I don't think contrasting policy differences between the candidates is out of bounds in a debate," Pawlenty told reporters after touring an orthotics and prosthetics company in Manchester. "The American people want to know what you stand for and what do you believe. If you get asked a question about how that differs from other proposals, I think that's fair game."
The former Minnesota governor delivered his most pointed attack to date against Romney over the weekend, claiming that his health care overhaul in Massachusetts inspired President Obama's national health care reform law.
Pawlenty called the two laws "Obamneycare."
He urged reporters Monday not to read too much into those comments, saying that he was simply responding to a question about the Massachusetts law. He said he would "certainly respond" to similar questions if they come up during the debate.
Pawlenty, though, brushed aside questions about whether his sharpened message is intended to draw a tough contrast with Romney and gain some traction in the polls.
"The object isn't to stir some kind of internal rift in the Republican Party," he said. "The focus here is to get Barack Obama out of the White House. If you want to ask somebody to be the pundit in the race, go talk to John King."
Despite his tough criticism of Obama's health care legislation, Pawlenty said he does support the law's requirement that health insurance companies cover pre-existing conditions.
A handful of Democrats from the pro-reform group Protect Your Care demonstrated outside the event. They quickly pounced on Pawlenty's statement.
"It's great rhetoric that he says he likes the pre-existing conditions provisions, but by supporting both the Ryan budget and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act he has already twice said he would take those very protections away from the young boy he met today," said Protect Your Care spokesman Eddie Vale.
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