-- MILFORD, N.H.—It's been ten months since Tim Pawlenty exited the race for the Republican presidential nomination. But the former Minnesota governor has emerged as one of Mitt Romney's most forceful surrogates in the months since, selling the former Massachusetts governor's 2012 bid even more passionately than he sold his own.
That's probably why Pawlenty's name has been frequently mentioned as a possible vice presidential running mate for Romney this fall. It's a position that Pawlenty has repeatedly said he doesn't want, but his presence here on day one of Romney's five-day bus tour of six key battleground states is unlikely to quiet that buzz.
The ex-governor introduced Romney on stop two of his tour, an ice cream social that drew several hundreds of supporters to quaint town square in this southern New Hampshire town.
Pawlenty, his voice a touch ragged, took the stage to introduce Romney and immediately tore into President Obama, saying his "teleprompter speeches" don't do anything to help the economy. He said Obama's election slogan could be summed up as "it could be worse."
"We've had enough of him flapping his jaw," Pawlenty said of Obama. "We need somebody who's actually going to do the job and get results, and that's Mitt Romney."
Pawlenty's enthusiasm seemed to encourage Romney's own, as the Republican nominee delivered a more fired-up version of his usual stump speech. Not unlike Romney's first event in Stratham this morning, the candidate ignored Democratic attempts to overshadow his events.
But his opponents had stepped up their game. In addition to a plane circling in the sky trailing a MoveOn.org banner, a sports utility vehicle with a fake dog strapped on top circled the Republican nominee's event as he spoke—a reference to the now infamous story of Romney strapping the family dog in a carrier on top of his car during a vacation decades ago.
On the side of the car were the words, "Romney Mobile."