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Perry Has Strong Debate Heading Into Bus Tour

While it might not have been enough to alter his position, days before heading out on his bus tour of Iowa, Rick Perry turned in one of the strongest debate performances of his campaign.

Gov. Rick Perry speaking at a Veterans for a Strong America event in Des Moines, Iowa, on Dec. 10, 2011.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Heading into Saturday night's debate, there was a new front-runner in town, and it wasn't Rick Perry. The new big man on campus — in this case the campus of Drake University in Des Moines — was Newt Gingrich.

Yet while it might not have been enough to alter that reality, Perry turned in one of the strongest debate performances of his campaign.

In the debate, moderated by Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos and sponsored by ABC News, Yahoo News, WOI-TV, the Des Moines Register and the Iowa Republican Party, there were none of the "oops" moments that have dogged Perry and led him to fall in the polls.

As far as flubs are concerned, it was former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney who made the most notable — and most quotable — misstep. In a bizarre moment, Romney offered Perry a $10,000 bet that from one edition of Romney's book, No Apology: The Case for American Greatness, to the next, his position on individual health care mandates did not change.

Perry, who insisted Romney's position did change, declined the wager.

The verbal exchange was a major topic in the spin room following the debate, with pundits suggesting it made Romney, the wealthiest of the candidates, seem out of touch.

Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said after that debate that Romney’s bet was “a good move.”

“I thought Rick Perry, by backing down, looked weak. The reason that Gov. Romney made the bet is because he knew Rick Perry wouldn’t take it. And $10,000 sounds stronger than 50 cents,’’ Fehrnstrom said. “He had the chance to but he backed down. ... He could have put his money where is mouth is, but he knows it’s a phony attack and Gov. Romney called him out on it.”

Perry spokesman Mark Miner said, “It shows how out of touch Mitt Romney is. He’s a flip-flopper. ... The fact is he took it out of the book so he would have lost the bet. It doesn’t resonate very much with the people of this country, someone that bets $10,000.”

Added Perry campaign manager Rob Johnson: “Those tactics might work on a croquet court, but they don’t work in a presidential debate.”

During the debate, a spokesman for former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who did not campaign in Iowa enough to garner an invite to the debate, even weighed in on the comment, saying that Romney had argued that health care mandates were a good model for the nation. "I guess he owes Rick Perry $10,000," the spokesman said in a statement.

Bob Haus, the co-chairman of Perry’s campaign in Iowa, said Perry had a strong night.

“He stood in there; he showed he’s got some poise and really the character, I think, to be president of the United States,” Haus said. “I think far and away it was Perry’s best debate. … He just was strong and forceful and presidential.”

Haus said the timing for Perry was good, noting that the governor will start his bus tour of more than 40 cities starting Wednesday in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Prior to the debate, after speaking to veterans near the Drake campus, Perry said voters give him a pass on his past flubs. “The perfect candidate, I’m pretty sure, hasn’t been born yet,” Perry told reporters.

“I feel very good about what’s happening,” Perry said of the upcoming bus tour. “It’s gonna be a race to the finish, and we look forward to it.”

Here's our liveblog of the debate:

Liveblog

by Reeve Hamilton
We are only minutes away from tonight's big event! Stay tuned...
by Reeve Hamilton
According to the TV introduction, "The stakes couldn't be any higher!"
by Jay Root
Perry is standing between Santorum and Romney. Smaller crowd up there on stage and it shows.
by Jay Root
"It's time we liquidate the debt ... and, of course, lower taxes," Ron Paul says
by Reeve Hamilton
In the first question — about how to create more jobs in America — Perry says the problem is the line between Washington and Wall Street and "the corruption that's gone on." He says the country needs an ousider "like Rick Perry" to clean that up.
by Jay Root
Michele Bachmann says she plans on "cutting out the EPA."
by Reeve Hamilton
The first candidate to mention former candidate Herman Cain's habit of repeating his "9-9-9" plan at these debates: Michele Bachmann.
by Jay Root
Bachmann says payroll tax cut never should have happened, calls it part of Obama's "temporary gimmicks" on economy.
by Reeve Hamilton
When Romney begins listing the ways in which he differs from Gingrich, the first one that comes to mind is Gingrich's desire to build a "lunar colony."

by Jay Root
Romney starts to attack Gingrich. Says he doesn't agree on removing child labor laws, says they have different backgrounds. He says the only reason Mitt Romney didn't become a career politician is because he lost to Teddy Kennedy in 1994. Gloves off
by Reeve Hamilton
Gingrich says the only reason Romney didn't become a career politician is because he lost to Ted Kennedy in 1994. The gasps in the audience were very audible through the TV.
by Jay Root
Gingrich says it's "tragic" that NASA has been so "bureacratized." Says US should be exploring space in aggressive way.
by Reeve Hamilton
Romney's response: If I had been able to get into the NFL, I'd be a football star by now.
by Jay Root
Paul attacking Gingrich now. Says he supported TARP. Notes that he got a lot of money from Freddie Mac. "You were a spokesman for them an you received money from them," he says, talking straight to Newt. Getting a little ugly and personal now.
by Jay Root
Newt says he was giving "strategic advice" to Freddie Mac, was working in private sector. All the GOP candidates picking on Newt now -- the new "pinata."
by Jay Root
Worth noting that Perry is not getting a lot of air time here. It's a Newt pile-on.
by Reeve Hamilton
We are one quarter of the way through tonight's debate and only one answer from Perry.
by Reeve Hamilton
Bachmann is trying to tie Romney and Gingrich together by calling them "Newt Romney." To be clear, she disagrees with Newt Romney.
by Reeve Hamilton
Romney: "I know Newt Gingrich. Newt Gingrich is a friend of mine. But we are not clones!"
by Jay Root
Perry, referring to Newt and Mitt, says "both of these gentlemen have been for the individual mandate." Spends more time pounding on Mitt. "You can get up and stand up and talk about I'm against it now and I'm going to rescind Obama Care ... but the record is clear ... you and Newt were for individual mandates." Mitt fires back and says "you wanted to give young girls a vaccine."
by Jay Root
Mitt challenges Rick Perry to a $10,000 bet, says he never advocated making Mass. health care reform a model for nation. Perry says he did.
by Reeve Hamilton
Bachmann and Perry are taking turns going after the duo also known as "Newt Romney."
by Jay Root
More on that interesting exchange between Perry and Romney: Perry says Romney took out reference to making individual mandates the model for the country out of the reprint of his book: "I'm just saying, you were for individual mandates, my friend." Mitt says Perry has made the charge before. Perry cuts him off, and says, "It was true then and it's true now." Mitt answers: "I'll tell you what, 10,000 bucks?" Perry responds: "I'm not in the betting business ... I'll show you the book." Good lick against Romney. Best moment of the night for Perry. Perhaps the worst for Romney.
by Reeve Hamilton
First question after the break is if marital fidelity should be considered.

Perry's up first. He says, "Not only did I make a vow to my wife, I made a vow to God...That's even stronger than a handshake in Texas."

He goes on, "If you cheat on your wife, you'll cheat on your business partner."

Of course, Gingrich has a history of infidelity. The subject has also played a prominent role in the campaign due to recent allegations of unfaithful behavior that were leveled at Herman Cain and ultimately drove him out of the race.
by Jay Root
All the candidates rushing to say how long they've been married. Gingrich hasn't talked about it yet.
by Reeve Hamilton
Ron Paul says character is important, but they shouldn't have to talk about their marriages in these debates. The vow that really matters as a public figure, he says, is the oath of office.
by Jay Root
Voters want to know "what's your faith," Bachmann says. Says she is happy to talk about her husband or her family.
by Jay Root
"I've made mistakes at times," Gingrich says.
by Reeve Hamilton
Gingrich admits he's "made mistakes" and has "gone to God for forgiveness." He says he appreciates voters' willingness to see beyond his marital history.
by Jay Root
Gingrich says people won't agree to sending police into communities to arrest and deport illegal immigrants who have lived in the US for a long time.
by Jay Root
Perry glaring at Romney
by Reeve Hamilton
Ron Paul disagrees with Newt Gingrich's statement that Palestinians are an "invented people." He says, "That's just stirring up trouble."
by Jay Root
Perry says that talking about immigration reform before securing the border is nothing more than "intellectual discussions." He says several times that US needs to enforce laws already "on the book" instead of on the "books." He criticized Obama for having a "catch and release" policy for immigrants captured on the border and said he would not use federal government to sue states who try to enforce immigration laws.
by Reeve Hamilton
Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney are having a tense showdown over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"Of course you stand firm and stand for the truth, but you don't speak for Israel," Romney says.

Gingrich says he doesn't speak for Israel, but is commenting as a historian.
by Jay Root
Perry campaign issues press release to hammer home point about Romney saying that he had once proposed using the Massachusetts health care reform as a model for the nation.

It was sent out under the headline, "Romney deletes his own words from his book."

The press release says: "Romney bragged about Romneycare being a national model in his book, No Apology, published in March 2010: 'We can accomplish the same thing for everyone in the country.' Mr. Romney deleted this Romneycare brag from the paperback version of, No Apology, published in Feb. 2011."

by Reeve Hamilton
Perry says Gingrich's comment about Palestinians has been blown out of proportion by the media. The real issue, Perry says, is that Obama has implemented the most "muddled" foreign policy in history.
by Jay Root
Candidates are asked when was the last time they suffered economically and had to give up a "necessity." Perry said he remembers "growing up in a house that didn't have running water until I was five or six years old." He says that "luxury really wasn't in my lexicon." He said he never felt like he didn't "have everything I needed."
by Jay Root
Romney says he didn't grow up poor but knows how to create jobs, which will help the less fortunate.
by Jay Root
"States can do whatever the heck they want to do," Romney says when asked about health care mandates
by Reeve Hamilton
Back to health care mandates. "States can do whatever they want to do," says Romney. There's a smattering of applause from the audience.
by Jay Root
Ron Paul says government should not "protect you from yourself." Pops Mitt and Newt again over health care mandates, says both candidates are already on the defensive on the issue.
by Jay Root
Perry pitches government reform plan to cut Congressional pay and create "part-time Congress."
by Jay Root
Huntsman, not at debate, chimes in with press release attacking Romney. Press release is entitled, "Why Mitt Romney Owes Rick Perry $10,000." It says that Romney has long advocated making Massachusetts health care reform a model for nation.
by Reeve Hamilton
Asked to say something nice about another candidate, Perry said Paul really turned him on to issues with the Fed.
by Reeve Hamilton
Gingrich says Rick Perry got him engaged on Tenth Amendment issues about three years ago.
by Reeve Hamilton
Ron Paul says, based on Rick Perry's praise of his campaign against the Fed, that he's learned not to give up on his fellow politicans.
by Reeve Hamilton
We close with Michele Bachmann praising Herman Cain's "9-9-9," but says she's going with "Win-Win-Win."
by Reeve Hamilton
And that's all folks!

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