Though Pawlenty shrank from attacking Romney over health care at a recent candidates’ debate, he has continued to savage the Massachusetts law during campaign appearances, noting that it served as the model for the national law signed by President Obama.
“One of the major issues in the race is going to be Obamacare, and I don’t see how you can prosecute that charge effectively if you were co-conspirator in a charge,” Pawlenty told a TV interviewer in a typical line.
Huntsman is more measured in his criticism, saying Romney has “little credibility” on health care.
For his part, Romney could argue that his efforts left many more constituents with insurance. In Massachusetts, all but 2 percent of residents now have health coverage. In Utah, the figure is 14 percent, while in Minnesota, it has risen from 6 percent in 2000 to 9 percent.
People in both parties in Utah and Minnesota say they are surprised to see the candidates going after Romney’s record on the issue. The fact is, they say, all three were considering, to varying degrees, many of the same health-care reforms — ideas that were considered open for discussion in Republican circles before they became identified with the new national law.
“It’s tricky for [Pawlenty] because he was for a number of these ideas before he came out against them. There are lot of things we looked at in 2007 and 2008 that are embedded in the Massachusetts reform” and national law, said Erin Murphy, a Democratic state representative in Minnesota. “I’m surprised he’s pushing on health care, because it’s a political weakness for him.”
In Utah, Peter Knudson, a Republican state senator, said Huntsman should “not throw rocks at Governor Mitt Romney. . . . We are not a carbon copy, but I would certainly have to say we looked very closely at [the Massachusetts] plan.”
In Utah, health-care reform advocates recall their excitement when Huntsman declared in 2006 that the issue would be a top priority. There was clear inspiration from Massachusetts, where Romney, Huntsman’s friendly rival, was presiding over the historic overhaul. And there was encouragement in Salt Lake City as well, where a United Way task force, with many businesspeople on board, strongly endorsed expanding coverage.