Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell defended Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney’s record on health care Friday morning as he amps up his support of the former Massachusetts governor in a tightening race.

McDonnell was on Fox News to dissect Romney’s Thursday night debate performance, including a testy back-and-forth with former Sen. Rick Santorum on President Obama’s health care reforms. Santorum questioned whether Romney would repeal Obama’s signature legislative achievement considering Romney approved similar reforms in Massachusetts while leading the state.

“What Gov. Romney just said is government-run, top-down medicine is working pretty well in Massachusetts and he supports it,” Santorum said. “Think about what that means going up against Barack Obama.”

McDonnell, who endorsed Romney ahead of last Saturday’s South Carolina primary, argued that Romney had every right as governor to enact a mandate requiring citizens to buy health insurance. That power doesn’t extend to the federal government, something Romney is aware of, McDonnell said.

Under McDonnell, Virginia sued the Obama administration over a similar mandate and passed a law prohibiting the state from requiring citizens to purchase insurance.

“That’s not what Mitt Romney did. The states are free to do it,” McDonnell said. “He’s admitted there are some things he did right, some things he would do differently. But on day one he would repeal Obamacare.”

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  • McDonnell commended Romney’s performance, calling it his “best night of the debate season” and applauding him for “taking the fight to his opponents.”

    “That is what Americans want to see,” he said. “That has been I guess the one rap on him, they didn't see the fire in his belly. I know he has got it. That’s why I'm supporting him.”

    Still, McDonnell avoided criticizing the other candidates as other Romney backers have in recent weeks. While calling Romney “the most electable candidate,” McDonnell spoke glowingly of Santorum’s performance as well and said, “all four of them are vastly better than this president.”

    McDonnell is expected to head to Florida this weekend to help the Romney campaign fend off a surging Newt Gingrich. He will fly to the Sunshine State Friday night and rally with Romney Saturday morning in Pensacola before heading back to the commonwealth.