Tim Pawlenty has put forward an economic plan that has won plaudits from Lawrence Kudlow and supply side guru Art Laffer. But last night Pawlenty turned in a bad performance in CNN’s debate in New Hampshire for currently-declared GOP candidates.

Pawlenty’s not very good night started right off the bat when the candidates introduced themselves-Pawlenty said he was a father and failed to mention that he is a former governor. Sorry, but I am not voting for somebody for president on the basis of his being a father. Having been the tax cutting governor of Minnesota is a different matter. It wasn’t as bad as Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s heavily autobiographical reply to President Obama’s first State of the Union. But it was in a similar mode.

Pawlenty’s worst moment came when moderator John King asked him about his characterization of Romneycare as  Obamneycare . It was highly effective on the Sunday talk circuit, garnering Pawlenty favorable media. With Romney a few feet away, he refused to repeat it and, when John King reminded Pawlenty had said it in the “safety” of a solo appearance a few days ago, Pawlenty was effectively done.

It didn’t help that Pawlenty kept helplessly repeating that the president had characterized Romneycare that way. He also gave Romney the opening for one of his strongest replies of the night. Pawlenty didn’t have to get down and dirty, but he did have to consolidate his original gains with the clever Obamneycare  characterization.

I once interviewed a famous caterer who said that, if there is too much salt in the dinner, there is absolutely  nothing you can do to rectify it the next day. Pawlenty’s spokesman’s comments this reminded me of that. The good thing about an early debate is that it’s early. Pawlenty has time to improve-but, if Texas Governor Rick Perry was watching T-Paw last night, Pawlenty might have just enticed Perry into the race with his weak outing.

I agree with Rich Lowry that it was Mitt’snight-perhaps because, unlike T-Paw, Mitt is an old hand at presidential debates. Rich writes:

Romney was on his game – smooth, relaxed, and unflappable. He did well in the debates in 2008, but benefited tonight from his increased stature in the context of the rest of field. In 2008, he was up against John McCain and Rudy Giuliani, strong personalities with real gravity, and Mike Huckabee, a fellow first-time candidate who is a natural performer. He was also helped by the unwillingness of anyone to take him on, most notably Tim Pawlenty on the “Obamneycare” charge. If Pawlenty wasn’t willing to back up that line in person, he shouldn’t have said it on TV Sunday.

In general, Pawlenty was fine, but faded into the background and sometimes seemed much too canned. He had to be chagrined watching how well Michelle Bachmann did – the average viewer just tuning in wouldn’t have any idea she’s not considered a “top tier” candidate.

The NRO poll has Bachmann winning the debate and Romney coming in a distant second at around 7:30 am. Backmann was good, but I thought Mitt was the winner.