WASHINGTON — He could have bet a beer. Or maybe a steak dinner.
But during a heated dispute with Rick Perry during Saturday night's debate in Des Moines, Iowa, Mitt Romney extended his right hand and asked the Texas governor if he'd wager $10,000 to settle a dispute over his healthcare record. The rich bet instantly provided Romney's opponents with new ammunition for their charge that he's out of touch with middle-class America.
"I'm just saying, you're for individual mandates, my friend," Perry said to Romney.
"You've raised that before, Rick, and you're simply wrong," Romney responded, extending his hand toward Perry. "Rick, I'll tell you what: 10,000 bucks?"
Perry laughed it off: "I'm not in the betting business."
It was an exchange that spanned less than a minute. But it's one that likely won't soon be forgotten. Democrats and Romney's Republican challengers pounced almost immediately.
"I want to know if he has $10,000 in his pocket," Newt Gingrich's spokesman, R.C. Hammond, said after the debate.
Romney's personal wealth and privileged background have long been viewed a potential political vulnerability. He's the son of a former governor and made a fortune leading a venture capital company in Massachusetts. Romney disclosed earlier in the year that his personal wealth is estimated at between $190 million and $250 million.
But as a presidential candidate in recent months, he's made a point of courting middle-class America.
"I didn't grow up poor. And if somebody is looking for someone who's grown up with that background, I'm not the person," Romney said during the debate, noting that his father was poor at one point in his life. "They made sure we had jobs when we were growing up. They made sure we didn't spend money foolishly."
That did little to stop the Democratic National Committee from using the $10,000 bet to fuel an immediate political attack. In a statement, the DNC said $10,000 is almost three times more than what an average family spends on groceries in a year and more than a year's worth of mortgage payments for the typical American home purchased today.