Newt Gingrich defended himself against attacks from Texas Rep. Ron Paul and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann as well as Mitt Romney, the former front-runner, in the first debate since he soared to the lead in polls nationally and in Iowa. The state’s caucuses on Jan. 3 will kick off the competition for Republican National Convention delegates who will pick an opponent to President Barack Obama.
Here were some of the biggest moments of the night.
What’s $10,000 among friends?
Mitt Romney challenged Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s claims that the former Massachusetts governor backed a requirement that individuals purchase health care coverage.
“I’m just saying, you’re for individual mandates, my friend,” Perry told Romney during Saturday evening’s debate, returning to a criticism that has dogged Romney’s campaign.
“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?”
It was a rich bet that perhaps reminded some voters that Romney has a fat enough bank account to make such wagers. But Perry wasn’t playing.
“I’m not in the betting business,” he said.
Romney’s rivals seized on it. Democrats were giddy about the moment, which they planned to use to cast Romney as an elitist who could afford such lavish bets.
Gingrich on Marital Infidelity: I’m a Grandfather Now
Gingrich also faced tough questions, including about his three marriages — including to wife, Callista, with whom he carried on an extramarital affair while still wed to wife No. 2.
“I think it is a real issue. I think people have to look at the person to whom they are going to loan the presidency,” Gingrich said, while Callista Gingrich sat in the audience. “And they have the right to ask every single question.”
Gingrich has previously acknowledged infidelity.
“I’ve made mistakes at times. I’ve had to go to God for forgiveness. I’ve had to seek reconciliation,” he said Saturday evening. “But I’m also a 68-year-old grandfather and I think people have to measure who I am now and whether I’m a person they can trust.”
Bachmann Keeps 9-9-9 Alive
Rep. Michele Bachmann was the first — and last candidate — on stage to bring up Herman Cain, who recently left the presidential race amid repeated accusations of sexual harassment and an extramarital affair.
It was likely part of a plan to lure some of Cain’s supporters her way.
“One of our former competitors was Herman Cain, and he was always reminding us of the 9-9-9 plan,” Bachmann said early on. “And what I’d like to do is the win, win, win plan.”
She later praised Cain’s contribution to the presidential race while answering her final question of the night.
Other Key Moments
— Bachmann tried to link Romney with Gingrich — and paint both as unacceptable to conservatives on issues such as climate change and health care mandates. During one exchange, she branded the pair as “Newt Romney.”
— Sen. Rick Santorum compared his record with Bachmann’s — noting that he, too, fought as a member of the then-minority Republican caucus. His difference: He was able to win political fights, while Bachmann has come up short on her signature issues such as stopping Democrats’ health care overhaul.
— Rep. Ron Paul took pride in often being the lone voice in Congress against legislation. “I end up sometimes, believe it or not, voting all by myself, thinking why aren’t there people paying attention?” the Texan said.
— Huntsman was the evening’s missing man. He did not meet the polling threshold to participate and instead campaigned in New Hampshire, a state he is making central to his strategy.