'Out-of-touch' Romney under fire over $10,000 bet challenge
THE Republican presidential hopeful, Mitt Romney, has risked alienating swathes of struggling Americans after casually offering to bet $10,000 (€7,500) with his rival, Rick Perry, over a policy dispute.
Mr Romney, who is believed to have amassed a $250m (€187m) fortune as a private equity executive, challenged Mr Perry to prove that he once favoured forcing people to buy health insurance.
"I'll tell you what," he said during a televised debate in Iowa, offering Mr Perry his hand. "Ten thousand bucks? A $10,000 bet?"
Mr Perry replied: "I'm not in the betting business."
The remark drew sharp criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike.
America's poverty rate is at its highest in 28 years and joblessness has not been so high for so long since the Great Depression. It allowed Newt Gingrich, the former house speaker who has surged to the top of opinion polls, to shrug off controversy involving his statement that the Palestinians were an "invented" people.
Mr Perry, the Texas governor, said on breakfast television yesterday that Mr Romney showed he was "out of touch with the normal Iowa citizen".
He doubted that "anyone in Iowa would even think that a $10,000 bet was possible".
Bill Burton, a former adviser to President Barack Obama now working with his re-election campaign, said: "Mitt Romney has no clue what pain the American middle class is feeling."
The Democrats pointed out that the sum at stake was more than four months' pay for the average American.
Mr Romney's top strategist, Stuart Stevens, said the remark was "a human thing to do to get someone to shut up when they're not telling the truth".
But it came on a difficult night for the long-standing favourite, who now trails Mr Gingrich in opinion polls in Iowa, South Carolina and Florida -- three of the four states voting next month.
The former Massachusetts governor also declined to attack Mr Gingrich for his extramarital affairs and two divorces, as a TV advertisement released by his campaign did indirectly last week. Only Mr Perry took the bait when the candidates were asked if a rival's infidelity should matter.
Mr Gingrich conceded: "I've made mistakes." However, he said he was now a "68-year-old grandfather". He came under pressure for his statement on Friday that the Palestinians were an "invented" people.
Insisting he "spoke as a historian", Mr Gingrich said: "I will tell the truth, even if it's at the risk of causing some confusion sometimes with the timid.
"These people are terrorists. They teach terrorism in their schools," he said. His comments were criticised by The Arab League as "irresponsible and dangerous".
Mr Romney said: "I think the speaker made a mistake." The debate cemented the status of Mr Romney and Mr Gingrich as the clear front-runners.
Mr Romney, who styles himself as an outsider in an attempt to capitalise on the unprecedented public dislike for Washington, attacked Mr Gingrich, who spent 20 years in Congress, as a "career politician".
Referring to Mr Romney's unsuccessful run for the US Senate, the former speaker hit back that "the only reason you didn't become a career politician is you lost to Teddy Kennedy in 1994". (© Daily Telegraph, London)