Within hours of picking up an endorsement from former White House contender Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney swooped into South Carolina Monday morning with his new de-facto cheerleader and front-line defender.

Pawlenty’s new role was apparent at a press availability with the two men in North Charleston. Romney was able to step back, at least for one question, and let his new national co-chair speak for his record.

An NBC reporter asked, didn’t the former governor of Minnesota once refer to Romney as a “co-conspirator” of President Barack Obama’s health care plan? As Pawlenty took the microphone, Romney’s grin got bigger. Pawlenty dutifully fell in lockstep:

“Governor Romney, I think correctly, took the approach that states should try different things, innovate, be the laboratories of Democracy as it was envisioned by the founders,” said Pawlenty, referring to the comprehensive health care law implemented in Massachusetts during Romney’s tenure. “He’s committed to repealing Obamacare at the national level and I think that’s the correct position and one that I’m completely comfortable with.”

Romney didn’t let Pawlenty take all the hits – after all he’ll be busy spinning on Romney’s behalf after the “Tea Party Republican Debate” broadcast on CNN from Tampa Monday evening – he reminded everyone that so-called Romneycare and Obamacare are not one in the same.

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