ABC News’ Michael Falcone, Jason Volack, David Muir and Russell Goldman report:
As tweeters, bloggers and commenters worldwide asked each other what $10,000 buys, Mitt Romney’s campaign insisted that the candidate’s bet was not a gaffe.
“Romney made that bet because he knew Rick Perry wouldn’t take it,” Romney strategist Eric Fehrnstrom said in the post-debate spin room.
Another top Romney adviser, Stuart Stevens, called the line “a very human thing to do to get someone to shut up when they’re not telling the truth.”
Mid-way through Saturday’s Iowa debate, Perry accused Romney of supporting an individual mandate to buy health insurance, saying that Romney wrote in his book that the Massachusetts mandate was a model for the nation.
Romney shot back with a bet: $10,000 that he does not and did not support a national individual mandate.
Romney’s GOP rivals were quick to characterize the comments as proof that Romney, a millionaire, is out of touch with middle class America.
“For someone to go and throw around a $10,000 bet, just goes to show even more that he’s not the same level as the people of Iowa or the country,” said Michele Bachmann’s spokeswoman Alice Stewart.
But Fehrnstrom said the dollar amount was high because Romney’s conviction was strong.
“I’ve had arguments with family members, with friends of mine and I’ve made million dollar bets,” Fehrnstrom said. “The sum of the bet goes up depending how strongly I feel about the rightness of my position. The reason Mitt Romney offered that bet is because he knew Rick Perry wouldn’t take it and by backing down, Rick Perry looked weak.”
Ron Paul’s campaign spokesman Jesse Benton agreed, saying the bet was an “interesting moment” and that he “thought Romney made Perry look quite weak.”
Benton said the debate was “very fair” and that Paul “got all of his points across.”
After a CBS News debate in November, Paul’s campaign accused the network of deliberately limiting the amount of speaking time Paul received, calling the debate “disgraceful” and claiming the network thought that “they can choose the next president.”
Bachmann also blasted CBS for limiting her talking time in that debate, as did Rick Santorum.
Santorum said Saturday night that the Iowa debate was “fair,” adding that ”we made a fair case in the time we had.”
Saturday night’s debate comes just 24 days before the Iowa caucus, and Santorum said ”we will spend 22 in Iowa.” The former Pennsylvania senator has basically set up camp in Iowa and is the only candidate to have visited each of the state’s 99 counties.
“People of Iowa have yet to make up their mind of who they are going to support,” Santorum said. ” I am confident the more they learn about all the candidates, the better we are going to do.”