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Mitt Romney attacked as out of touch over $10,000 TV bet attempt December 12, 2011

Mitt Romney was accused of being out of touch with working-class America on Sunday, after the Republican presidential candidate tried to make an impromptu $10,000 bet during a TV debate.

The slip, at the time of high unemployment and a growing poverty divide, could damage Romney three weeks before the first of the Republican contests in Iowa.

His critics said the issue was not that he offered the bet but the size of it, consolidating Romney’s reputation as a very rich man seeking to buy his way to power.

Even before the bet offer, Romney, one of the favourites to win the Republican nomination to take on Barack Obama in November’s White House election, had been slipping in the polls. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is now the front-runner.The gaffe came when a rival candidate, Texas governor Rick Perry, claimed Romney had supported national healthcare reform in a passage in his book that was excised from the paperback edition.

Romney – who brought in healthcare reform in Massachusetts that was similar to Barack Obama’s, in a move unpopular with conservatives – denied he supported the measure nationwide or that the passage had been in the first edition.

“Rick, I’ll tell you what: $10,000 bucks? Ten thousand bet?,” Romney said, extending his hand to shake. Perry, a Christian evangelical who may have a principled stand on betting or maybe because he was wrong about the book, declined.

“I’m not in the betting business but I will show you the book,” Perry said.

It was the first time that a bet has been offered in more than 50 years of televised political debates in the US.

Alice Stewart, a spokeswoman for another candidate, Michele Bachmann, told ABC, who hosted the debate: “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.”

Bill Burton, who is helping to organise Obama’s re-election campaign, wrote on Twitter: “Not a lot of 99%’ers are out there making $10,000 bets.”

Romney has struggled to win over Republican voters, failing to get his poll support much above 25%, partly because of suspicion of his Mormonism among the Christian right but also because of his wealth. In the 2008 campaign, he spent $42m of his own money.

Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney’s press spokesman, tried to laugh the incident off, saying it was not a serious bet. “I’ve made bets with friends and family for $1m,” Fehrnstrom said. He added that Romney had made the bet because he knew Perry would not take it. “This guy was wrong. It was a phoney allegation.”

The Republican race has been one of the most mercurial in recent history, as candidates have emerged only to fade after a few weeks. Polls show two-thirds of Republicans are undecided, dissatisfied with the entire field or prepared to switch. On Sunday a poll gave Newt Gingrich double-digit leads in South Carolina and Florida.

Gingrich, as frontrunner, was the main target in the Saturday night debate in Des Moines, the 13th so far, with one more scheduled before Iowa. His rivals focused on his alleged work as a lobbyist, his three marriages and his views on the Middle East.

Who is the wealthiest of them all?

Mitt Romney: The wealthiest candidate: in his last financial disclosure, during his 2008 White House bid, he put his personal wealth at between $190m and $250m, most of it from his time in business. About $42m has to be deducted from that, the amount of his own cash spent on the failed bid.

Jon Huntsman: Although at the bottom of the polls, he is runner-up in terms of wealth. He listed his personal assets this year as between $15m and $66m, much of it from a chemical company set up by his father.

Newt Gingrich: His finances appear shambolic, with his assets changing dramatically from year to year. He earned $2.5m last year, mainly, he says, from speeches and books but also, controversially, from his own consultancies, which his rivals say are for lobbying, a charge he denies. His consultancies have earned an estimated $100m over the past decade.

Ron Paul: His assets are between $2.29m and $5.3m, based on his disclosure in the 2008 White House race.

Rick Santorum: His personal assets, based on his financial disclosure when he was in the Senate in 2006, put him in the range of $522,000 to $1.8m.

Michele Bachmann: She is worth $1m to $2.5m, mostly profits from a therapy clinic (where gay people can allegedly pray to be “cured”). A family farm brings in $5,000 to $15,000. She is carrying $350,000 in debts: a $250,000 mortgage and a $100,000 business loan.

Rick Perry: A spokesman for the Texas governor’s office put his wealth as of 2009 as $896,000, held in a blind trust. He has made his money mainly from buying and selling houses. He has debts of about $70,000, including a car loan for a Mercedes.

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GOP candidates December 11, 2011

As the first votes of the primary season approach, the BBC looks at the Republican candidates hoping to stand against President Barack Obama in November.

Continue reading the main story

  • Michele Bachmann

  • Herman Cain
    Campaign suspended

  • Newt Gingrich

  • Jon Huntsman

  • Ron Paul

  • Rick Perry

  • Mitt Romney

  • Rick Santorum

Michele Bachmann

The Minnesota congresswoman is an outspoken favourite of the Tea Party who rose to prominence with her strident cable television attacks on President Barack Obama and the Democrats.

Ms Bachmann built her campaign from a small core of staunch supporters and briefly led in the polls in the early caucus state of Iowa before falling into the second tier of candidates.

A devout evangelical Christian, Ms Bachmann has a law degree and worked as a tax attorney. Before her election to the House in 2006, she was a state senator in Minnesota.

On the campaign trail, she refers frequently to her five children and the 23 young women she took into her home as a foster mother.

See a full profile of Michele Bachmann.

Story of the polls

Select a candidate on the left to see poll figures.

Select a poll from the row above to see how figures vary.

On the issues

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Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich set for showdown in crucial GOP debate December 10, 2011

After seeing his rivals for the GOP presidential nomination self-destruct one by one, tonight’s debate in Iowa offers Mitt Romney his best opportunity to arrest Newt Gingrich‘s sudden surge in popularity.

As poll after poll in recent days has shown that Gingrich has replaced Romney as undisputed frontrunner for the Republican nomination, Romney’s campaign has been forced onto the offensive – a policy that Romney will have to continue in tonight’s debate in Des Moines.

Romney previewed the tactics he is likely to use against the former Speaker of the House on Friday, poking fun at a series of Gingrich’s more fanciful ideas, including a permanent moon base and paying children from improverished families to clean school bathrooms.

Meanwhile, prominent Romney supporters lashed out at Gingrich in harsher terms, calling him unstable and untrustworthy, and a brutal new ad attacking Gingrich as a flipflopper who would lose in the general election to Obama has been released by a political action committee that backs Romney through a site called

Gingrich was quick to reply in kind on Friday with a stinging claim that Romney’s 1994 Senate bid saw him campaign “to the left of Ted Kennedy,” thus tying Romney to the Massachusetts liberal icon.

For months Romney has remained above the fray, generally avoiding interviews and using his debate appearances to focus on Obama. In the dozen previous debates Romney and Gingrich have circled each other wearily, but Gingrich’s slender poll ratings earlier in the contest meant Romney wasted little energy in attacking him.

Those long stretches of front-runner status, as challenges from Tim Pawlenty, Michele Bachmann, Perry and Herman Cain all came and went, now seem like wasted opportunity for Romney, as his solid if underwhelming polling position in the key early primary states has been eroded by Gingrich.

Gingrich’s rise has been on the back of his pugnacious debate performances, in which the media as well as the Obama administration has been his target.

But Romney has shown himself to be a tenacious, disciplined debater – and his clipped manner could see him match Gingrich’s sniping. Earlier debates saw Romney prepared to trade verbal blows with Texas governor Rick Perry – and with Perry folding under the glare of the debate spotlight.

Aside from Romney versus Gingrich, the other five candidates on stage will be lining up to take a swing at the front-runners in an effort to boost their own chances with a little more than three weeks remaining until the Iowa caucuses.

Reports from Iowa and strong recent polling suggest that Ron Paul, a libertarian-leaning veteran candidates, could cause an upset by winning the caucuses thanks to a groundswell of support and a vibrant campaign in the Hawkeye state.

Paul’s threat could see him attract more hostility from his rivals on stage, who are likely to take aim at his opposition to US military involvement abroad.

Tonight’s debate starts at 9pm ET from Drake University in Des Moines, jointly hosted by ABC News, the Des Moines Register and Yahoo. The Guardian will be live-blogging the debate with contributions from correspondents in Washington DC and Des Moines.

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GOP race: does Iowa still matter?

Almost all the Republican presidential candidates have dispensed with the traditional campaign playbook this year. Normally at this point in the race, they will have spent hours in Iowa, criss-crossing the state addressing small gatherings in church halls, libraries, schools and private homes.

Not this time round. Candidates such as Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry have largely ignored Iowa, dispensing with the ritual of small-town, meet-and-greet campaigning for which the state is famous.

The leading contenders have delayed until now, with only four weeks left, making any serious commitment to campaigning in the state. Almost all of the candidates will be in Iowa this weekend for a presidential debate and another next week, and they will all be back in the week running up to the caucus on January 3, the first of the states to hold a contest.

But for most of this year they have chosen to campaign elsewhere and in different ways, reaching out to potential supporters mainly through the new platform of nationally-televised presidential debates or regular appearances on Fox News.

Professor David Redlawsk, one of the co-authors of ‘Why Iowa?’, published this year, recognises the unique role of the presidential debates this time. “The result is that instead of campaigning on the ground in Iowa and New Hampshire as much, candidates are presenting themselves on the national stage far earlier than usual,” Redlawsk said.

Spending in the first nine months of this year is less than in 2007, 2003 and 1999. According to Kanar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group, Iowans have been bombarded with just 8,697 ads this year so far compared with 26,037 in 2007. Spending by the campaigns in Iowa this year so far has been just $2.4m compared with $21.6m in 2007.

Only Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and, to a lesser extent, Ron Paul have followed the traditional playbook, devoting day after day to campaigning in Iowa and attempting build large networks of volunteers. It worked for Barack Obama in January 2008, giving him the propulsion that carried him all the way to the White House.

So far it has not worked for Bachmann and Santorum, stuck in single-digits in most polls. But will all their face-to-face meetings and slow build-up of volunteer networks turn surprise results on the night?

The wisdom of the two approaches – sticking to the traditional route or bypassing it – will be clear on January 3.

That night, supporters of each candidate will attempt to gather votes in potentially 1,784 precincts throughout the state. They will usually express their support in a secret ballot, though in some precincts there may be a simple show of hands. From Iowa, the campaign moves on to New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida.

Iowa has a mixed record in choosing the eventual Republican candidate. In 2000, George W Bush won the caucus and the nomination, as did Bob Dole in 1996. But last time round, in 2008, Mike Huckabee won the caucus but not the nomination: the same for Dole in 1988 and George H W Bush in 1980.

Iowa has traditionally been more important for Democrats than Republicans. For Republicans, it has been New Hampshire and, even more so, South Carolina, the first of the southern states to vote.

In 2008, John McCain decided that Iowa was too conservative for him and opted not to campaign there, focusing instead on New Hampshire. It worked for him, taking New Hampshire and then South Carolina and eventually nomination. Rudy Giuliani tried something similar the same year, ignoring Iowa and New Hampshire and focusing almost exclusively on Florida. But by the time the campaign reached Florida, it was too late.

Romney this year initially adopted a similar strategy to McCain, focusing on New Hampshire and ignoring Iowa. When no clear candidate emerged in Iowa, at least until Newt Gingrich over the last fortnight, Romney could not resist the temptation and decided, albeit tentatively, to campaign a bit more than he had planned in Iowa. He has begun advertising there.

Jon Huntsman, an outsider polling in single digits nationally, has also opted against campaigning in Iowa, focusing instead on New Hampshire.

The campaign in Iowa seems quieter this time round in part because 2008 was an unusual year, with both the Republicans and Democrats holding caucuses. With only half as many candidates, it was always going to be quieter.

Republican caucuses also tend to be quieter than Democratic ones. Redlawsk, in an email exchange, said Republicans do not need to build the same kind of campaign as Democrats because of the nature of the Republican caucus: a secret ballot rather than the lengthy, open affairs that the Democratic ones involve.

“The result, from our research in Why Iowa?, is that Republican campaigns are not as grassroots as Democrats. That doesn’t mean grassroots doesn’t matter – it still takes work to get people to come out on caucus night – but the on-the-ground work is less visible publicly and seems more focused on existing groups like church congregations, home schooling groups, and other social conservative organisations,” Redlawsk wrote.

“We found, for example, that in 2008 few Republican caucus-goers had anyone knock on their door, while most Democrats had at least one person come to their home.”

Iowa’s ‘first-in-the-nation’ status is resented elsewhere in the country, with big states such as Florida challenging the notion that such a small state should have such a big say in deciding who the next president should be. These challengers point out that it is predominantly rural, overwhelmingly white and far removed from the experience of most Americans. In the case of the Republicans, the challengers also point to the disproportionate number of Christian evangelicals.

Redlawsk thinks it all evens out over the various contests. “Ironically, for the Republicans, Iowa is probably pretty representative of a key wing of the party – social conservatives. More than half of Republican caucus-goers generally call themselves evangelicals. On the other hand, New Hampshire Republicans are more libertarian and business-oriented conservatives. Put these first two contests together and you have pretty much the range of the Republican primary electorate,” Redlawsk said.

Charlie Cook, a political analyst, speaking in a lecture in Iowa last month, noted the relative absence of many of the candidates this time round and the predominance of the televised debates. He thought this might have been a mistake for some of the candidates.

He said candidates such as Perry, who made a series of mistakes early on in the debates and in television interviews, might have benefited from rehearsing his lines in some small-town campaigning in Iowa before launching himself straight into a national campaign.

“If he says something that may not have been particularly politically opportune, it might have been in front of a rotary club and not on national television,” Cook said.

“You know, there’s a reason why Broadway plays usually don’t preview in New York City.”

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Republican candidates appeal to pro-Israel vote at coalition forum December 8, 2011

Republican presidential candidates made a prolonged pitch for the pro-Israel vote on Wednesday with calls for regime change in Iran and even hints at military action.

Newt Gingrich, the leading Republican contender who holds a double digit lead in three of the first four states to hold nomination contests, backed his hawkish position by announcing that if he wins the election he wants his secretary of state to be John Bolton, the abrasive neoconservative and former ambassador to the UN who has derided Palestinian claims to a state as a “ploy”.

Gingrich was speaking to the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) in Washington along with other presidential candidates, except Ron Paul who was barred for his views on Israel. Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann joined Gingrich in stinging attacks on Barack Obama’s Middle East policy, accusing him of weakness in the face of the Jewish state’s enemies and failing to be sufficiently supportive of Israel.

They also sided with Israel in demanding a much tougher stand against Iran over its nuclear programme.

Gingrich said his aim would be to “overtly sabotage (Iran) every day”.

“The only rational long-time policy is regime replacement,” he said.

Romney demanded “crippling sanctions” against Tehran and suggested the US could resort to force against the nuclear programme.

“Ultimately regime change is necessary. We should make it very clear we are developing and have developed military options,” he said.

The calls were met enthusiastically by the Jewish coalition’s audience but were also aimed at a wider consumption of strongly pro-Israel voters.

The latest opinion poll shows Gingrich pulling further ahead of Romney in early races for the nomination, particularly the southern states of South Carolina and Florida. The CNN poll says that Gingrich has strong support among Tea Party followers and Christian evangelicals, groups that are strongly pro-Israel and far more significant in electoral terms than American Jewish voters who, in any case, lean more toward the Democratic party.

The poll gives Gingrich 43% of the Republican vote in South Carolina, the first southern state to vote. Romney is a distant second at 20%. Gingrich also has a 23-point lead in Florida and is ahead of Romney by 13 points in Iowa. Only in New Hampshire does Romney lead among the first four states to vote, although the gap is shrinking with Romney at 35% to 26% for Gingrich. Paul is in third place in all four states.

All six of the Republican candidates addressing the RJC attacked Obama’s attitude toward Israel as disloyal and endangering its security.

Gingrich slammed Obama for pressuring Israel on issues such as Jewish settlement construction in the occupied territories, which is a major obstacle to negotiations.

“This one side that says it’s always Israel’s fault no matter how bad the other side is has to stop,” he said to enthusiastic applause.

Gingrich called on Obama to reprimand his defence secretary, Leon Panetta, over implicit criticism of Israel last week. Panetta’s bluntness came after a speech in Washington in which he was asked about what could be done by Israel to advance the peace process. He replied: “Just get back to the damn table.”

The comments, which unusually in US politics put the emphasis for the stalemate on Binyamin Netanyahu’s government, have infuriated pro-Israel hawks who see anything but unflinching loyalty to the Jewish state as endangering its security.

In a demonstration that he would run an administration far more sympathetic to the right wing Likud-led government in Israel, Gingrich said he would appoint Bolton in part to “liberate the intelligence community” to focus on covert operations, such as against Iran.

Gingrich won sustained applause for saying that as president he would move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which is not internationally recognised as Israel’s capital.

Romney launched a broad attack on Obama’s foreign policy.

“Abroad, he’s weakening America.” he said. “He seems to be more generous to our enemies than he is to our friends. That is the natural tendency of someone who is unsure of their own strength, or of America’s rightful place as the leader of the world.”

He accused Obama of “not finding time” to visit the Jewish state, drawing some boos and hisses from the audience. Romney promised to make a trip to Jerusalem his first foreign visit as president.

The Republican contender accused Obama of “insulting” the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and of “emboldening Palestinian hardliners”.
“President Obama has immeasurably set back the prospect of peace in the Middle East,” Romney said.

Perry attempted to put right the damage done last month when he said he would cut all foreign aid and let countries justify the need. Asked then if that would apply to Israel, he said yes. That brought a storm of protest from Israel’s supporters who said that it would endanger the security of the Jewish state.

On Wednesday, Perry tried to work his way around that by saying that he was referring to “traditional” aid – presumably economic and development – whereas Israel gets more than a $1bn a year in military assistance.

“Israel is our strategic ally. America long ago ended the traditional foreign aid to Israel. Strategic defensive aid to Israel is what we provide. Strategic aid in all forms under a Perry administration will increase to Israel,” said Perry.

But the Texas governor made another passing gaffe by referring to new Jewish housing in occupied East Jerusalem as “settlements”. Israel says they are “neighbourhoods”.

Perry was criticising the Palestinian attempt to get UN recognition of a state with East Jerusalem as its capital. But the slip of the tongue in following the terminology used by the Palestinian and much of the international community will not have bolstered confidence in Perry among Israel’s hardline supporters.

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