Pawlenty: In GOP field, it's Romney vs. the JV


Check out the latest episode of "Face to Face," a mid-week online "Face the Nation" extra featuring one-on-one interviews with Bob Schieffer and a top newsmaker. In this episode, Schieffer interviews former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty.

The morning after Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty was willing to concede that second place finisher Ron Paul "shouldn't be dismissed" as a serious presidential candidate. But at the end of the day, Pawlenty says he's confident "Mitt Romney is going to be the nominee."

"Frankly, amongst this field, Mitt Romney is really the varsity playing the junior varsity," Pawlenty told CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer in an appearance on CBS News' new webshow "Face to Face."

The former governor was once considered a formidable candidate in that field himself, but bowed out after a weak showing in August's Ames Straw Poll in Iowa. Now, he has rallied behind Romney and says he's "working hard" to make sure he gets the nomination.

Still, he said, "we have to tip the cap to Ron Paul" in light of his recent performances in New Hampshire and Iowa, where he placed third in the January 3 caucuses.

"He doesn't agree with Mitt on everything, but he came in second in New Hampshire, he had a respectable showing in Iowa, and he shouldn't be dismissed," Pawlenty told Schieffer. "A lot of people just kind of brush him off and say, well, he's not a serious candidate -- he's doing well in these early states. But look, with six or seven candidates in the race it's going to have to distill down here in the final stages."

Some observers see benefits for Romney in an extended Paul candidacy. The longtime Texas lawmaker has a fervent base of supporters and a strong, organized campaign operation. (He is the only candidate other than Romney who has not had trouble getting on the ballot in some states.)

"As long as he stays there and continues to get a sizable percentage of the vote, it keeps the other candidates from -- or the other voters from coalescing around one single conservative," Schieffer said. "Are you glad to have Ron Paul where he is?"

"All the voices in the campaign and the debate are important, but keep in mind Ron Paul may also be attracting some people coming into the process who are new or who otherwise wouldn't be in the process," Pawlenty said. "He may be attracting new people in the process."

Pawlenty didn't seem overly concerned about the onslaught of negative advertising that awaits Romney in South Carolina, which holds its primary on January 21. Already, his Republican rivals have unleashed millions of dollars worth of attack ads in the state in the hopes of emerging as the anti-Romney alternative.

"Well it can have an impact, but as the old saying goes, it ain't beanbag," Pawlenty said of the ads. "And so the third party groups, the candidates are going to be leveling it back and forth -- there's nothing wrong with that, that's a healthy part of the process as long as it's accurate and fair. I think where candidates get frustrated and where people get frustrated is when the ads are distorted, or inaccurate, or misleading or untrue."

He did say, however, that he was "disappointed" with the recent barrage of criticism that has been leveled at Romney's record at the venture capital group Bain Capital.

"It's disappointing to see Newt Gingrich and some other Republicans criticizing economic freedom and private enterprise, and somehow saying that's out of bounds in the Republican party," Pawlenty said. "That's Barack Obama's argument, and it's disappointing to say the least that Newt Gingrich and Republicans are making Barack Obama's class warfare argument."

When asked if he was "sorry" he got out of the race, Pawlenty laughed.

"I had my fair shot at it, Bob, and so I couldn't get it done. And I'm glad to support, honored to support, excited to support Mitt Romney. But you can't look back in hindsight and say I should have done that or that. I had a fair shot at it, but couldn't get it over the finish line."