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Pawlenty Endorses Romney; GOP Contenders Debate Tonight

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, the first major candidate to drop out of the race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, has endorsed his one-time rival Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts.

During his brief run for the GOP nomination, Pawlenty coined the term "Obaneycare" to try to make the point that the controversial health care overhaul legislation signed into law by President Obama was based, at least in part, on the health care overhaul legislation signed into law by Romney when he was a governor.

But now:

"Alone among the contenders, he possesses the unique qualifications to confront and master our severe economic predicament," Pawlenty says in a statement posted on the Romney campaign's website. "His abiding faith in our country's exceptional historical position as a beacon of freedom will make him the most important leader in a world that depends upon a strong America to stay at peace."

Meanwhile, Romney and the others still in the race are in Florida for tonight's CNN/Tea Party debate at 8 p.m. ET. And as they gather, there's word in a new CNN/ORC International Poll that Texas Gov. Rick Perry has widened his lead over Romney among Republicans.

Our friend Frank James over at It's All Politics follows this and all the other 2012 campaign news.

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.