Several Republican presidential hopefuls ratcheted up their rhetoric Sunday on the eve of the first GOP debate in New Hampshire, signaling the launch of a more robust interplay between the candidates as the campaign heads into the summer season.
The strongest shot came from former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who swiped at the healthcare plan signed into law by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by quipping that the polarizing healthcare reform measure championed by President Obama amounted to “Obamneycare.”
"President Obama said that he designed Obamacare after Romneycare and basically made it Obamneycare," Pawlenty told Chris Wallace on "Fox News Sunday." "And so, we now have the same features -- essentially the same features. The president's own words is that he patterned in large measure Obamacare after what happened in Massachusetts. And what I don't understand is they both continue to defend it."
Pawlenty appeared to be positioning himself on an offensive tack heading into the New Hampshire debate, which will be the first to feature Romney, widely viewed as the presumptive frontrunner in the race.
Romney's campaign responded by saying that "Republicans should keep the focus on President Obama's failure to create jobs and control spending."
Pawlenty also accused Obama of having a "declinist view" of the country and dismissed Wallace’s question about whether he was “too nice,” saying, "Being strong is not the same as being loud."
Another prospective candidate, former Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, also stepped up his criticism of the president.
He told CNN’s Candy Crowley on "State of the Union" that Obama had "failed on the economic front," adding: "You look at unemployment, you look at the environment in which jobs supposedly can be created, when you look at the debt level and you look at all the economic indicators, it would suggest that we're in bad shape."
After spending a whirlwind month visiting key nominating states, the former Utah governor said he planned to announce his presidential campaign in about a week and a half. He stressed his foreign policy experience as a major asset in the race.
"I think the citizens of this country are going to be very interested in a president who understands the world for what it is. It's complex, it's confusing, it is uncertain, and it's not going to get any better in the years to come," Huntsman said.
Meanwhile, Romney and Huntsman fielded swipes from former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
"I think they have held positions in the past that have not been conservative," he told David Gregory on NBC’s "Meet the Press." "And I think they have to account for those."