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Pawlenty: Campaign debt not a factor in Romney endorsement

By NBC's Carrie Dann

TAMPA, Florida -- Former presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty said Monday that the issue of retiring his campaign debt was not a factor in his decision to endorse former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and that his past concerns Romney's health care legislation have been put to rest.

Asked about reports that Romney had promised to help Pawlenty erase his campaign debt, the former Minnesota governor said that he did not consider the lingering financial issues of his campaign when he decided to endorse.

"That wasn't a factor in my endorsement and obviously if he's willing to help with that, we'd love to have his help," he said. "But I anticipate I'll probably end up raising more money for him than he would in terms of anything he might do to help with our campaign debt."

Pawlenty, who previously dubbed Romney the president's "co-conspirator" on Obama's heath care bill, said that Romney convinced him of his promise to repeal the federal health care legislation.

"He's assured me as he's repeatedly assured the nation that one of the most important priorities he'll have as president is to repeal Obamacare," the former Minnesota governor told NBC News in an interview in Tampa, FL.

"What he has said and what I agree with in his perspective is states should be allowed to try things and he thought health care reform the way they did it in Massachusetts was right for Massachusetts," he added. "But most importantly Mitt and I agree it's not right for the rest of the country."

One thing that has changed since Pawlenty's exit from the 2012 field is the skyrocketing poll numbers of Gov. Rick Perry, who has recently shot past Romney in national surveys. But Pawlenty today took no direct shots at Perry, focusing exclusively on Romney's economic record.

He said that Romney presented a more "thoughtful and measured" approach to fixing Social Security but did not use the harsher language Romney is widely expected to employ in tonight's CNN/ Tea Party Express debate.

When Pawlenty dropped out of the race after the Ames straw poll last month, he told ABC News that he did not intend to back another contender "anytime soon." But on Monday he said that he "accelerated" that timeline in order to make a big splash with his nod, deciding that "doing it earlier would have more impact on the race and would be more meaningful towards trying to get Mitt elected president."

But some of that impact could be muted by another big name in Republican politics - Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana -- who this afternoon endorsed Perry.

"I wasn't aware of that," Pawlenty said when NBC asked him about Jindal's endorsement of Perry. "I know Bobby and certainly respect his time as governor of Louisiana. But all the governors are going to be lining up or most of them will for endorsements in the coming weeks and months and I'm proud to be standing with Gov. Romney."