As the Iowa caucuses draw closer, Mitt Romney's opponents are hammering him for making a $10,000 bet with Rick Perry at a Republican debate on Saturday: a move critics say highlighted Romney's disconnect with voters who are struggling to make ends meet.
The controversial moment came when Perry repeated an attack he has used many times before: that, in his book No Apology, Romney said he supported a federal health insurance mandate.
I'll bet you 10,000 bucks that the book didn't say that, Romney told Perry.
I'm not in the betting business, Perry replied.
Several sources, including The Associated Press and FactCheck.org, have debunked Perry's claim. In discussing the health care bill that Romney passed as governor of Massachusetts, the first edition of No Apology does include the line, We can accomplish the same thing for everyone in the country, but it is clear in context that it refers to the broader goal of making health care more affordable, not to the individual mandate or any specific element of the Massachusetts plan.
But the post-debate attention has focused much more on Romney's wager than on Perry's accusation. The criticism is coming from both sides of the aisle, with the Democratic National Committee and fellow Republican candidates Perry and Jon Huntsman all releasing anti-Romney Web ads on Monday.
Romney's words made him look a little out of touch with the normal Iowa citizen, Perry told Fox News on Sunday. The median household income in Iowa was $49,177 in 2010.
Romney defended himself on Monday, saying he was not seriously proposing a $10,000 bet.
It was an outrageous number to answer an outrageous charge, he told Fox News, comparing it to saying I'll bet you a million bucks.
Romney Gets the Words Wrong, Again
This is not the first time that Romney has made a questionable choice of words. Back in June, at a campaign stop in Tampa, he told a group of unemployed Floridians, I should tell my story. I'm also unemployed.
It was a joke, but given Romney's net worth of more than $200 million, it did not go over very well.
Romney tried to do damage control at Saturday's debate in response to a question, asked of all the candidates, about the last time he had experienced financial difficulties.
I didn't grow up poor, he acknowledged, and if people are looking for a president who comes from that background, then I'm not your guy. But I grew up with a dad who had been poor, and my dad wanted to make sure I understood the lessons of hard work.
He went on to say that his father taught him and his siblings to use their money responsibly, and that he put those lessons into practice when he had to live on $110 a month as a Mormon missionary in France from 1966 to 1968. That's about $769 a month in today's dollars.