Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty put himself back in the Republican presidential race on Monday, endorsing former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for the GOP nomination and taking on the role of Romney's national campaign co-chair.
"I know all of the candidates in the race for president in 2012. I know them, I respect them," Pawlenty said on Fox News. "But the next president is going to have to lead on the economy and jobs in an historic way. And there's one candidate in this race who's unmatched in his skills and experience and talent when it comes to turning around this economy and growing jobs, and that's Mitt Romney. And I'm proud and excited to endorse him for president of the United States."
Pawlenty's endorsement of Romney marks a departure from the sharp rhetoric the Minnesotan used when he was campaigning for the Republican nomination, harshly criticizing Romney for supporting state-mandated health care as Massachusetts governor.
Pawlenty repeatedly asserted that Romney would have a hard time arguing against the Democratic-led health care overhaul, which Pawlenty went so far as to label "Obamneycare," to link the two programs and appeal to the Republican base.
Pawlenty now says he's satisfied Romney is committed to repealing the federal law.
"He has said on day one, when he is president, he's going to issue executive orders that will give states waivers from Obamacare, and then he'll take the additional steps to repeal it," said Pawlenty. "He understands and believes and has asserted himself that while it was right for states to take different approaches [to solving skyrocketing health insurance costs and problems with access], that it was wrong for President Obama to try to bring that to a national plan."
"The next president is going to have to lead on the economy and jobs in an historic way."
It's not necessarily a surprise that Pawlenty would choose to back an establishment candidate like Romney, rather than tea party favorites like Texas Gov. Rick Perry or fellow Minnesotan Rep. Michele Bachmann; he started out courting establishment Republicans earlier this year, but switched up his focus in hopes of exciting the tea party wing of the GOP.
Dennis Goldford, a political scientist at Drake University, says that in endorsing Romney, Pawlenty is showing his true -- mainstream -- political colors.
"You could say this might well be a return to who Tim Pawlenty really is," Goldford said. "He certainly tried to distinguish himself from Mitt Romney to be the alternative to Mitt Romney, but Michele Bachmann and now Rick Perry have ridden along to maximize their support among the tea partiers who really dislike, intensely dislike, Mitt Romney. So this really puts Tim Pawlenty back where most people thought he was before the beginning of the year, [before] he seemed to drift further to the right."
Goldford says if Pawlenty had legions of supporters, his endorsement of Romney would be a bigger deal than it is. But Goldford says even though Pawlenty's backing won't likely bring massive numbers of voters with it, it could help Romney shore up the moderate establishment base of the party.
What Pawlenty gets from the endorsement is unclear. He might get help paying off his own campaign debt. He says he's not interested in being a vice presidential candidate. But Goldford says that doesn't mean Pawlenty isn't angling for a job.
"Who knows? If there's a Romney administration perhaps a reward for this would be a position in a Romney administration," he said.
The Romney campaign says details of Pawlenty's role as campaign co-chair are still being worked out. On Monday night, Pawlenty will be at the tea party debate, in Tampa, Fla., as Romney's guest.