DES MOINES (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney put his money where his mouth was on Saturday in a quip at a presidential debate that may have backfired.
Romney, a multi-millionaire and a frontrunner for the Republican nomination, offered a $10,000 bet to opponent Texas Gov. Rick Perry in an argument over what Romney wrote about healthcare in his book "No Apologies."
Former Massachusetts governor Romney tried to bet that he had not supported implementing an individual healthcare mandate, mistrusted by conservatives.
"Rick, I'll tell you what: 10,000 bucks?," Romney said. Perry, like many of those assembled at Iowa's Drake University for the debate, seemed surprised by the offer.
"I'm not in the betting business, but I'll show you the book," Perry said.
The bet line could potentially hurt Romney, who has suffered in the polls in recent weeks as former speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich has risen in the polls. Romney's wealth has long been a point of attack from Democrats who say the former head of Bain Capital is out of touch.
Bill Burton, spokesman for PrioritiesUSA, an outside group supporting President Barack Obama's re-election, said the attempted wager is another sign that in an economy with 8.6 percent unemployment, Romney "could not be more out of step."
Burton, a former Obama administration official, pointed to other statements Romney has made joking about being unemployed and calling corporations people.
"It is predictable that Mitt Romney will slip up and let folks in on who he is from time-to-time," Burton said in an email. "Corporations are people, joking about being unemployed and now this. Mitt Romney has no clue what pain the American middle class is feeling right now."
Eric Fehrnstrom, a senior Romney adviser, said the campaign was not concerned the comment might make its candidate appear out of touch.
"Not at all," Fehrnstrom said in an email to Reuters. "Mitt Romney knew that Rick Perry wouldn't take the bet because it's a phony attack. By backing down, Perry looked weak."
Rival Republican Jon Huntsman's campaign seized on Romney's remark, promising in an email that the website 10KBet.com was on its way.
"While Jon Huntsman signed free-market health care without a mandate, Mitt Romney was arguing that his government-run, mandate approach should be a model for the nation," Huntsman spokesman Tim Miller said.
"I guess he owes Rick Perry $10,000."
Editing by Todd Eastham