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Appearing on “Late Show with David Letterman” on Tuesday night, Mitt Romney calls Sarah Palin “terrific” and says “she’s got energy, passion.” In fact, she’ll be on opposite Romney in a “Tonight Show with Jay Leno” appearance.

Romney The battle of the prospective 2012 contenders is probably overblown — we’ll see later what Palin says about Romney — but that is not the case with the competition between Letterman and Leno. Leno handily beat Letterman on Monday night, his first night back behind the desk since the arrival and exit of Conan O’Brien.

CBS provided excerpts of Romney’s appearance, which included talk of the former Massachusetts governor’s tiff with a fellow airline passenger and criticism of President Obama for going on what Romney calls an “apology tour.” (His latest book is called No Apology: The Case for American Greatness.)

Romney and Letterman also talked healthcare reform, with Romney saying that the “problem is not insurance companies” but the lack of market incentives.

I’ll have to watch the entire interview, but Romney could have provided an opposition-ready sound bite, not to mention the notion that the White House healthcare proposal is basically a nationalized version of the Massachusetts plan that he signed into law.

Update: Romney cited his Massachusetts proposal, but said that the approach should be “state by state, with each state fashioning its program” to best suit its needs. Letterman pressed him several times on where the tea partiers were when spending was driven up. Romney acknowledged as much, but said that it took the economic collapse and deficits to reach the trillions to get the grassroots movement riled up.

And when Letterman mentioned Palin, to whom he had a well publicized tiff last year, Romney quipped, “She’s got a rifle, you know.”

Video of his appearance below.