MANCHESTER, N.H. -- On the eve of his first nationally televised matchup with Republican front-runner Mitt Romney, presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty laid down the gauntlet with a cutting phrase: "Obamneycare."
The double-edged epithet yokes the health care overhaul Romney signed as governor of Massachusetts to the sweeping reforms spearheaded by President Obama. Both plans require everyone to buy insurance so that both the healthy and sick can receive benefits, but many Republicans view the so-called "individual mandate" as a budget-busting threat to personal freedom.
Pawlenty first used the term "Obamneycare" in a morning interview on Fox News Sunday that the campaign echoed via e-mail and Twitter in a calculated bid for attention.
"I was just making the point that the president himself is the one who said the blueprint for Obamacare was the Massachusetts health care plan and merged it essentially into Obamneycare," Pawlenty told reporters Sunday evening after mingling with voters at a brick-walled tavern in Derry, about 15 miles southeast of Monday's GOP debate.
Romney has maintained that his state plan differed from Obama's "federal takeover," which he wants to repeal. "Republicans should keep the focus on President Obama's failure to create jobs and control spending," Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in a statement.
Another representative of the Romney campaign, Eric Fehrnstrom, commented Sunday on Twitter that Romney "left behind $2.3 billion IN CASH for his successor," a thinly disguised criticism of Pawlenty leaving a $5 billion projected deficit in the state of Minnesota after he left the governor's office.