PAWLENTY’S BIG CHOKE: Won’t Repeat Criticisms To Romney’s Face (VIDEO)

In one of the most cringe-worthy moments of Monday’s GOP presidential primary debate, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty blew his first big chance to draw a distinction between himself and his top rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. For the past 36 hours, Pawlenty has ribbed Romney for being the architect of “ObamneyCare” — the mandated universal private health insurance plan that Romney pioneered in Massachusetts, which served as a basis for the new national health care law.

But offered a chance by CNN host John King to confront Romney with the barb in person, an uncomfortable Pawlenty demurred.

“I just cited President Obama’s own words that he looked to Massachusetts as a blueprint or a guide when he designed ObamaCare,” Pawlenty said. “Using the term ObamneyCare was a reflection of the President’s comments that he designed ObamaCare on the Massachusetts health care plan.”After Pawlenty initially passed on a chance to go to-to-toe with Romney, King pressed Pawlenty to reiterate and explain his use of the term “ObamneyCare.” Again, Pawlenty demurred.

Pawlenty apparently telegraphed his intent to chicken out to reporters earlier Monday in New Hampshire. But it stuck out as a big missed opportunity. On Twitter, former RNC chairman Michael Steele sighed “TPaw blinked on “obamanycare”. That was his moment.”

Watch the exchange below.