By Kendra Marr, Politico, April 12, 2011 9:32 AM ET
Tim Pawlenty’s health care record in Minnesota makes him the best Republican challenger to President Barack Obama on “the most important issue” facing the country, his new campaign manager Nick Ayers told POLITICO.
“We could not paint a clearer contrast between Governor Pawlenty and the President of the United States on the most important issue,” Ayers said.
Pawlenty’s aide wouldn’t comment on Mitt Romney — who’s being dogged by criticism that the health care plan he enacted in Massachusetts was the model for Obama’s plan — but Ayers predicted the issue will loom large in the 2012 presidential contest.
“Health care was an albatross,” he said. “The American people abhor the overreach of government in their personal lives.
"Matching health care in Minnesota to health care nationally, the two could not be more different," he added.
Traveling around the country, Pawlenty has been touting the success of his home-grown reforms.
When he was governor, Minnesota launched a plan to pay health care providers one price for a “basket” of services, sending the message that they will profit from efficiency and quality — instead of racking up charges for various services.
Faced with Minnesota state employees’ skyrocketing health care costs, Pawlenty also created a system that allowed individuals choose any clinic in any health care network. But workers who picked the more expensive and less efficient clinics would be required to pay more out-of-pocket. As a result, Pawlenty says, consumers gravitated toward providers that delivered better quality at lower costs.
At the same time, Pawlenty barred his state from applying for millions of dollars in discretionary grants under the federal health care law and joined the lawsuit against Obama's national overhaul.
The highly regarded Ayers, who starts work in Minneapolis on April 25, said it was “really thrilling” to join Team Pawlenty. The former executive director of the Republican Governor’s Association first sat down with Pawlenty during the group’s conference in San Diego last year to discuss both of their futures. And after talking with his family, praying, and assessing the crowded 2012 field, he said he made the decision to sign on with TPaw.
“When it came to making a choice of who is the best candidate, who is has the strongest conservative credentials with uncompromising vision and strength at the ballot box, that decision was a clear choice,” said Ayers, who is also close to Haley Barbour. “But to say it’s not uncomfortable or difficult to choose among friends would be misleading. In a world of personalities, I like other folks of in the race. But the choice for the best president of the United States, for me, that was a clear choice.”
Ayers said Pawlenty has a record that’s “competitive in any early state, caucus or primary.” He said the if Pawlenty wins the nomination, he would be able to go toe-to-toe with Obama on any issue. As a “person or public servant, he is second to no one,” Ayers said.
Asked about the campaign hurdles ahead, he deadpanned, “I think our biggest obstacle is returning all the phone calls from people who want to endorse us and raise money for us.”
He paused. “I’m being funny.”