The early indications are that Romney's health care law would become a bigger liability in the campaign than Pawlenty's prior environmental stances. Health care was also a much bigger issue in the 2010 election than cap and trade. That said, Romney has already received plenty of scrutiny on his health care record and is still a nominal frontrunner, while the lesser-known Pawlenty hasn't yet received much attention for his past, more-moderate positions on energy.
But with the federal health care law Obama signed facing legal challenges that hinge on the coverage mandate provision, the issue is likely to stay in the news, providing Romney opponents with more fodder for attack.
If they both end up running for president as most expect, how each chooses to address the other's liability is also worth keeping an eye on. For his own part, Pawlenty was offered a chance to dig into Romney's plan on Thursday, but declined to do so, citing the fact that Romney was not at the debate to defend himself.
In light of Pawlenty's blunt admission of his mistake (and while it received a great deal of coverage on Thursday, it's important to note that it is not a new revelation) on cap trade, it's also worth noting that some Republicans have been pushing Romney to apologize for his health care plan. Will Pawlenty work to portray his cap and trade "mistake," as he calls it, as the opposite of Romney's reaction to his own health care plan? Perhaps not directly, for right now, at least. But Thursday, in an indirect way, he offered voters an opportunity to compare how he is addressing his shortcomings with how others are dealing with their own issues.
"You're going to have some battle scars," Pawlenty said. "You're going to have a few clunkers in your record. We all do. And that's one of mine. I just admit it. I don't try to duck it, bob it, weave it."