Romney-Pawlenty: Smiles might hide a coming rivalry

The possible Republican presidential rivals appeared together in Minnesota despite their differences.

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Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney shook the hand of Gov. Tim Pawlenty after Pawlenty’s speech Friday night. Between them was former Rep. Vin Weber.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney had easy smiles during a joint appearance in Bloomington Friday night, but their pleasantries hid a coming deep rivalry -- and some unkind past words.

Pawlenty, Minnesota's governor, and Romney, Massachusetts' former governor, are the only Republicans who appear to be openly campaigning to oust President Obama.

In recent months, Pawlenty and Romney, a 2008 presidential contender, have crisscrossed the country giving speeches, helping 2010 candidates and raising money to dole out to others and fund their politicking.

That alone makes their twin speeches at the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota's fundraiser before about 400 donors notable.

In other forums, the two have sniped at each other.

For more than a year, Pawlenty, who supported Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential bid, has taken shots at a Romney signature -- the Massachusetts health law that requires individuals to carry health insurance. Like others, Pawlenty likens that law to the federal health care overhaul.

"Looking at the Massachusetts experience, it would not be one I would want for the country to follow any further,'' Pawlenty said in New Hampshire last month.

Romney hit back. "Facts are stubborn things," he said on CNN last year. He said a study found the plan's cost "well within the original forecast" years after it became law.

Friday's event featured none of those differences.

Pawlenty, who delivered a red-meat speech similar to the one he gave Wednesday at a Minneapolis rally with Sarah Palin, called Romney a "special friend." He added, "Mitt Romney is not only a great leader, he's a great person."

Romney said Minnesotans were "lucky" to have Pawlenty as governor.

Neither referred to their possible future runs for president, but master of ceremonies Vin Weber mentioned their possible goals. He said the media have been talking about the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans this weekend as a preview of the selection of Republican presidential candidates. "They've got the right river, but they may be at the wrong end," Weber said.

Both Pawlenty and Romney took swipes at Obama.

"What worries me right now is that Washington today ... is smothering the spirit of America, that which makes America, America, and we must not let it happen," Romney said.

Freedom Foundation officials said they didn't know how much money the event would raise for the limited-government, free-market group. Several dozen people paid $1,000 to $5,000 to attend a private dinner with the governors, and several hundred paid less to hear them speak.

The sold-out event attracted a mix of attendees: Republicans, including a few state lawmakers; a few families; former Timberwolves coach Kevin McHale and even a few Democrats.

Romney is in town to pitch his book, "No Apology: The Case for American Greatness." He held a book signing Friday night and will hold another at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Bookcase, 607 E. Lake St., Wayzata.

Rachel E. Stassen-Berger • 651-292-0164

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