By Maeve Reston
3:45 PM PST, December 11, 2011
Reporting from Hudson, N.H.
A day after the GOP candidates met for a fiery debate in Des Moines, Mitt Romney shrugged off criticism of the $10,000 bet he tried to make with Rick Perry on Saturday night.
Romney did not mention what was widely viewed as a damaging gaffe during a town-hall-style meeting with New Hampshire voters Sunday. But he was prepared with a line when asked by a reporter whether he regretted the bet because of its potential to reinforce the impression that he is out of touch with average voters.
"Actually, after the debate was over, Ann came up and gave me a kiss and said I was great,” Romney said, referring to his wife. "And she said there are a lot of things you do well; betting isn’t one of them.”
When a second reporter tried to follow up by asking whether it was the largest bet he had ever made, Romney chuckled, "That's all I've got."
But the exchange was a hot topic with the crowd in Hudson. Backers like Gerd and Carolyn Laudien viewed it as a troubling development for Romney, who is trying to halt the surge of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
"You don’t say that!” said Gerd Laudien, a retired engineer who is supporting Romney. “He’s throwing around $10,000 like it’s nothing. ... My father once told me a gentleman never bets unless he’s sure of the outcome – and he was sure, and he threw out $10,000. Gosh, how did he screw up like that?”
Others like Larry Phillips, a 69-year-old retired police officer from Canterbury, said he had missed the debate, but the brief snippet of the clip that has been playing repeatedly on cable news was perhaps more damaging without the context of the exchange.
"It’s not an issue for me; he made his money honestly,” said Phillips, who is deciding between Gingrich and Romney. But "without seeing the whole thing, I thought right off the top of my head that it was a bad move. It would just make people feel like he’s the guy with money to throw around: ‘I’m the big wheel.’ ”
"He should have bet him [Perry] dinner or something; a six-pack or something, not 10 grand,” Phillips said.
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