Romney has argued that it's appropriate for individual states, not the federal government, to try to regulate health care, but on Friday he avoided the topic altogether.
Both he and Pawlenty were well-received by the thousands of grassroots activists gathered in Washington. Neither lit the room on fire.
It was hard to immediately measure who could boast of the most supporters in the room. Pawlenty, who gave a lackluster speech last year, exceeded expectations. Romney, widely viewed as the frontrunner, had a higher bar to meet.
Their speeches overlapped in many respects. Both men came ready with anti-Obama zingers.
Romney: "This is the leader of the Free World's answer to the greatest job crisis since the Great Depression? What's next? Let them eat cake? Excuse me. Let them eat organic cake.''
And Pawlenty: "President Obama has done the impossible. He's proven that someone can deserve a Nobel Prize less than Al Gore.''
With rapidly developing events in Egypt, both avoided the topic that has dominated political debate outside of the hotel.
Other common threads: They both defended Ronald Reagan's legacy and bristled at any comparisons with Obama. Both pointed to their dad's hard work and sacrifice as a way to show empathy for Americans struggling in today's economy. Both drew applause for saying that they refused to "apologize'' for America, suggesting that President Obama had jeopardized the nation's position in the world.
"America's rightful place is not lagging behind China. America's place is leading the world!'' Pawlenty said.
The more sober Romney put it this way: "An uncertain world has been made more dangerous by the lack of clear direction from a weak president.''
Where Romney was more cerebral, Pawlenty sought to show his spiritual side.
"We, as a nation, need to turn towards God, not away from Him,'' he said.
While Pawlenty ticked off his accomplishments back home in Minnesota, Romney reminded the audience that he has spent time in corporate boardrooms.
"Let me make this very clear. If I decide to run for President, it won't take me two years to wake up to the job crisis threatening America. And I won't be asking Tim Geithner how the economy works--or Larry Summers how to start a business. "