Romney and Pawlenty share stage in Bloomington

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Two Republicans who could be on a collision course for the Republican nomination for president in 2012 stood on the same stage in Bloomington on Friday night.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney spoke to a group of 500 donors to the conservative group, the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota. Both Romney and Pawlenty appear to be ramping up campaigns for president, and both criticized President Obama’s economic and foreign policies. Romney said he’s worried those policies run counter to the history of the country.

“Everyone in the world, who sought opportunity, who wanted to be a pioneer, came here to this country,” Romney said. “That’s who we are. What worries me right now is that Washington today, more than I’ve seen in my lifetime. In fact, Washington over a large period of time is smothering the spirit of America.” (Listen to Romney’s speech here: )

Pawlenty and Romney both heaped praise on each other during the event despite the possibility of becoming opponents in 2012. Pawlenty, who left before Romney gave his speech, said he and Romney shared ideas when the two were governors of their respective states between 2003 and 2007.

“He is a wise leader,” Pawlenty said. “He is a smart leader. He is an effective leader. He has served our state and nation really well.” (Listen to Pawlenty’s speech here: )

Romney, who is in Minnesota signing his book “No Apology: The case for American Greatness,” and Pawlenty have been crisscrossing the nation endorsing candidates and speaking to Republican groups fueling speculation that they want to be the party’s nominee in 2012. Neither has announced his intentions.

The fundraiser comes at a time when another high profile Republican gathering is underway in New Orleans. Several other well known Republican candidates, including former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, are speaking at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference.

Former Republican Congressman Vin Weber, who co-chairs Pawlenty’s federal political action committee and advised Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign, joked that the national media shouldn’t be watching New Orleans so closely.

“They’re talking about it as a preview of perhaps the next presidential election,” Weber said. “My only comment is that they have the right river but they might be at the wrong end.”

Romney declined to attend the Southern Republican Leadership Conference this year. Pawlenty was scheduled to speak but canceled his appearance in order to attend a troop ceremony in Minnesota. He’s scheduled to speak to the New Orleans meeting by video.

Democratic National Committee spokesman Frank Benenati predicts that Romney and Pawlenty’s praise for each other will be short lived. He said Pawlenty has taken jabs at Romney for backing a health care plan that is similar to a federal plan recently signed into law by President Obama.

“On the stage, they’ll act like they’ve been friends from grade school but behind the scenes it will be a different story,” Benenati said.

The fundraiser caps off a busy week for Republicans in Minnesota. On Wednesday, 11,000 people attended a Minneapolis rally for Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

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