Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is still trying to walk back a walk-back.
Pundits saw weakness when Pawlenty refused to go on the attack in the GOP debate two weeks ago after he was asked to discuss rival Mitt Romney’s health care plan. Pawlenty had earlier compared the plan to President Obama’s controversial health care overhaul -- coining the term “Obamneycare” -- but looked uncomfortable and wouldn’t repeat the phrase during the debate.
Now, he’s trying to double down.
“It’s easy to take on Mitt Romney on health care,” Pawlenty said Monday morning on NBC's Today show. “The idea that I’m not tough enough to take on Mitt Romney or anyone else is just ridiculous.”
Pawlenty defended the debate dithering by saying he’d decided to focus on President Obama.
“I think the press was expecting a more direct confrontation with Gov. Romney,” Pawlenty said. “I’m happy to give them that, if that’s what they want.”
The presidential candidate also brushed off early poll results that show him with just 6 percent of the vote in Iowa.
“These early polls aren’t very good predictors of how the race is going to come out,” Pawlenty said. “Iowans decide late.”
“The early polls don't mean much. If they did, Hillary Clinton or Rudy Giuliani would be president today,” Romney said, referring to the two early front-runners in Iowa in 2007. “Mike Huckabee won the Iowa caucuses last time and he was actually lower in the polls at that time than we are.”
He also noted that the poll was taken just as his media in the state is starting, so the effect of that push probably wasn’t taken into account. He called the poll part of the “warm-ups or preseason.”
“These early polls are interesting to the media, but they’re very poor predictors of who actually wins,” Pawlenty said.