Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, left, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal… (Dave Zapotosky / Toledo…)
Mitt Romney was off the campaign trail as President Obama traveled through Ohio and Pennsylvania on his campaign bus tour this week. But that's not to say Republicans let the Democratic campaign hog the swing-state spotlight.
In fact, the GOP organized their own shadow bus tour along a similar itinerary, with a pair of prominent surrogates and potential Romney running mates -- Tim Pawlenty and Bobby Jindal -- offering a contrasting message.
"Pittsburgh, are you fed up? Are you ready to have a new and better president?" Pawlenty asked city residents Friday morning at a stop hours before Obama addressed a larger crowd elsewhere at Carnegie Mellon University.
The former Minnesota governor, who ran for president last year before fizzling at the Iowa straw poll, explained that he and Jindal were "trying to bring a little balance to Barack Obama's message," which he noted was dubbed "Betting on America."
"Well, we should all bet on America -- this tremendously blessed and beloved country. But we shouldn't double down on Barack Obama. His presidency is a losing hand for America," Pawlenty said.
The opposition swing was organized by the Republican National Committee, and hit three of the cities Obama was also set to visit -- Maumee and Parma, Ohio, in addition to Pittsburgh.
In Friday's stop, the two governors dished out some red meat to a gathering of party faithful, while also trying to generate some free media attention among local press.
It served as a chance for the potential running mates to give a trial run to the traditional role of attack dog, and test some messaging for the party. Both veered into an area that has proven to be uncomfortable for Romney -- the Obama healthcare law.
Pawlenty argued that Obama was being inconsistent by trying to argue the law's mandate was a penalty, when the high court said in its majority opinion that it was a tax, an argument that the White House also included in its brief to the court.
"Is your head spinning yet?" Pawlenty asked. "He shouldn't be going to the places he's been on this tour, he should go to the Waffle House and they should have the Barack Obama special! ... We should have Waffle Man or Waffle Woman follow him in a waffle suit!"
Well, practice makes perfect.
Pawlenty went on to describe some of the attributes that make him appealing as a potential No. 2 on the GOP ticket -- including his working-class upbringing in a community devastated when meatpacking plants shut down.
"I saw the face of unemployment and dislocation from the economy and the effects that has on moms and dads," he said. "So when we talk about Barack Obama, we talk about jobs, these aren't just statistics."
Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, accused Obama of an "Occupy Wall Street" mentality, and invoked Obama's recent remark about the private sector "doing fine."
"Are we as a country, are we as voters, are we as families, are we better off than we were four years ago?" he asked, to a chorus of no's.
Because of that economic record, Jindal said the president can't run on his promises.
"You're going to hear him try to do everything he can to distract us by attacking Mitt Romney, distorting his record, going after what he did in high school, what he did at Bain, what he did as governor," he warned. "Those attacks aren't true."
While Jindal and Pawlenty were deployed in the Rust Belt, another potential running mate, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, is drawing attention for a trip closer to where Romney has been, in New Hampshire.
Portman is set to headline a fundraiser for the state Republican Party, with some speculating he may also find time to huddle with the GOP nominee, or at least members of his vetting team.
Some have speculated Romney could announce his choice for the VP slot earlier than past candidates have, typically within a week of the party's national convention. But Romney's upcoming trip to London for the Summer Olympics, along with reports that it will come as part of a longer foreign trip, point to a more traditional rollout.