WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty, trailing in public opinion polls, criticized Republican rival Michele Bachmann on Sunday for a "non-existent" record in the Congress.
Pawlenty, a former governor of Minnesota, is competing for the same conservative voters as Bachmann in the early voting state of Iowa.
Bachmann, also from Minnesota and a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, is running neck-and-neck in Iowa with front-runner Mitt Romney while Pawlenty had only 6 percent support among Republican voters in a recent poll by the Des Moines Register.
"Well, I like Congresswoman Bachmann. I've campaigned for her. I respect her, but her record of accomplishment in Congress is non-existent. It's non-existent," Pawlenty told NBC's "Meet the Press."
Bachmann has gained traction with a fiery speaking style that is altogether different from Pawlenty's laid-back manner.
"We're not looking for folks who just have speech capabilities, we're looking for people who can lead a large enterprise in a public setting and drive it to conclusion," Pawlenty said, touting his own experience as a two-term governor of Minnesota.
In response to Pawlenty's comments, Bachmann said people could count on her as a fighter. She also defended her records while taking a jab at Pawlenty.
"I have fought the cap-and-trade agenda, rather than implement it, and I will work to end cap-and-trade as president of the United States," she said in a statement. "I stood up against President Obama's support of the $700 billion bailout rather than defend it."
Pawlenty once supported a cap-and-trade system on greenhouse gas emissions but has since changed his stance, saying it was a mistake. He also backed the Bush administration's bailout of the U.S. financial industry.
In the NBC interview, Pawlenty also raised questions about Romney, saying the healthcare plan he developed for Massachusetts served as a model for President Barack Obama's overhaul that Republicans want to repeal.
"I don't think we can have a nominee that was involved in the development and construction of Obamacare and then continues to defend it," he said.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Vicki Allen)