TPM News

Tim Pawlenty has made a little sport out of criticizing Mitt Romney's health care record -- particularly when the former Massachusetts governor isn't standing right in front of him.

Look to Minnesota, Pawlenty says. There, he boasts, he was able to reform the health care system "the right way."

This is code in the GOP for "no individual mandate." Back when even some conservatives supported the idea, Romney's plan included a mandate. But then it served as a model for the Obama administration's own health care reforms, and thus has become a huge liability for him in the primary -- particularly the mandate.

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In another sign of the weak slate of Republican presidential aspirants, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released Thursday shows that less than half of GOP primary voters are satisfied with the current crop of candidates.

According to the poll, 45% of Republican voters who said they plan to participate in the GOP primary said they were satisfied with their party's choices, the same percent who said they were dissatisfied.

At the same point in the election cycle last time around, 73% of GOP voters said they were satisfied with their candidates, versus only 18% who said they were not. And in 1996, a 68% majority of GOP voters were pleased with the party's options to take on President Clinton, while 31% were not.

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Two top Utah politicians are starting to line up against each other in the state's Senate race, with longtime Sen. Orrin Hatch facing a likely challenge for the Republican nomination from two-term Rep. Jason Chaffetz -- and they're fighting it out via talk radio.

Chaffetz, who first came to Congress after defeating incumbent GOP Rep. Chris Cannon, has been sending lots of signals that he could try to harness the Tea Party anti-incumbent fervor and turn it against Hatch. And in turn, Hatch was sent a serious message in 2010, when his fellow Sen. Bob Bennett was defeated at the state GOP convention, unable to even advance to a primary under the procedures used in the state.

It is important to note that the state convention system used in Utah -- in which a candidate can win a nomination outright by a vote of 60% of delegates at the state convention, without need for a primary -- can seriously empower the party's right-wing activist base. As such, the early phase of this fight is not fought out through a wider primary electorate, but through activists and a caucus system. Thus, targeted radio shows and the activities of activist groups will be the initial field of battle.

Now, Hatch and Chaffetz have hit the radio hustings.

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MINNEAPOLIS -- Former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) took direct aim at a key part of the Democrats' 2012 electoral strategy during his keynote address at Netroots Nation here Thursday evening.

The Super PAC Priorities USA, which was founded by former Obama White House aides to collect and spend the unlimited corporate funds allowed under the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, and other Democratic Super PACs are nothing short of a disaster for the party, Feingold said.

"It's dancing with the devil," he told hundreds of liberal activists gathered at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

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MINNEAPOLIS -- Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor and 2004 presidential candidate who helped spark the Netroots Nation conference being held here, told TPM that he would not continue the war in Libya without congressional authorization the way President Obama has.

But he declined to criticize Obama over his choice to continue the fighting without asking Congress to weigh in.

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MINNEAPOLIS -- If Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Resigned) thought his progressive allies would stand by him through his resignation, he must not have talked to Markos Moulitsas recently.

Asked about Weiner's resignation after a panel at the Netroots Nation conference here, Moulitsas was blunt. Weiner didn't need to resign, he said, but the Democratic firebrand doesn't need to be defended either.

"The guy's an idiot," Moulitsas said. "No sympathy."

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President Obama and Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) are calling in the heavy artillery in their own war of words over Libya and whether the White House has the power to thumb its nose at Constitutional requirements that Congress approve the use of military force.

At a briefing with reporters Thursday, White House spokesman Jay Carney read a statement from Boehner from 1999 in which he questioned the Constitutional issues surrounding the War Powers Act. That law prohibits the President from committing the military to actions for more than 60 days, plus a 30-day extension, without congressional approval. The U.S. involvement in the Libyan conflict has lasted for nearly three months.

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Tim Pawlenty has been widely criticized for a key moment at Monday night's GOP debate, when he refused to repeat his "Obamneycare" attack from a day earlier to Mitt Romney's face. Well, now Pawlenty is taking on Romney once more -- with a mocking comment three days later on Twitter.

At about 3 p.m. ET, Pawlenty posted this on Twitter:

On seizing debate opportunity re: healthcare: Me 0, Mitt 1. On doing healthcare reform the right way as governor: Me 1, Mitt 0

Take that, Mitt Romney!