By Eric Johnson
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Former White House advisor David Axelrod defended President Barack Obama's record as a pragmatic leader and champion of the middle class on Sunday and derided Republican White House hopefuls as long on rhetoric and short on ideas.
Now working as senior advisor to the Democratic president's reelection campaign, Axelrod said on CNN's "State of the Union" that he "heard a lot of pat partisan platitudes" during the first Republican debate on Tuesday.
Axelrod said savvy voters will sniff out inconsistencies in the campaign messages of Republican Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty.
"If you are Governor Romney and you say, 'I am going to turn this economy around. I've got the answers,' ... people have a right to say why is it that your state was 47th in the country in job creation when you were governor?" Axelrod said.
Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts who sought the Republican nomination unsuccessfully in 2008, leads many polls among his party's rivals. He has pushed his business experience as a way to attack Obama's stewardship of the U.S. economy.
"If you are Governor Pawlenty and you say, 'We've got to clean up this fiscal mess,' people have a right to ask then why did you leave your state with $6.2 billion dollar deficit?" Axelrod said.
Pawlenty, a former governor of Minnesota, has highlighted his work balancing the state's budget. He blamed Obama for stifling economic growth with "big government and heavy-handed regulations" when he unveiled an economic plan this month that called for deep cuts in taxes and government spending.
Axelrod also said former U.S. envoy to China and Republican hopeful Jon Huntsman, who has announced his plans to challenge his former boss for the presidency, had been supportive of Obama's record in 2009 on a "whole range of issues," including health care reform, which Republicans are keen to repeal.
(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst)