By Julian Pecquet - 12/12/11 02:52 PM EST
Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry all have health mandates to defend, a problem for all three candidates trying to attack President Obama’s national healthcare law.
The difficulties for the three candidates were on display during Saturday’s debates, where each of the candidates attacked the others on health mandates.
Perry's attack on Romney in the Iowa debate provoked one of the most talked about moments of the campaign — when Romney bet Perry $10,000 that he'd never advocated a federal mandate.
"You know what, you've raised that before, Rick," Romney replied. "And you're simply wrong."
Perry was taking aim at a line in the hardcover copy of Romney's 2010 book No Apology that was subsequently removed from the paperback version, which came out after the Democrats' law was enacted. "We can accomplish the same thing for everyone in the country," the line reads.
Romney says he never meant to suggest he would require everyone to have health insurance like he did when he was governor of Massachusetts. Still, Democrats have been repeating over and over that their law was "modeled" after Romney's 2006 effort, mandate and all.
Romney’s Massachusetts healthcare law has long been seen as a vulnerability. Senior GOP strategist Michael Wissot told The Hill earlier this year that a GOP advantage on healthcare would evaporate with Romney as the nominee.
Romney’s newest top rival, Gingrich, has also come under attack on mandates. During Saturday's debate, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said Gingrich "first advocated for the individual mandate in healthcare" in 1993.
"And as recently as May of this year," Bachmann said, "he was still advocating for the individual mandate in healthcare."
Gingrich says he's against the kind of mandate called for in Obama's reform law — "I've said consistently we ought to have some requirement that you either have health insurance or you post a bond," he told NBC's "Meet the Press" in May — but the distinction could prove too narrow for many Republicans as they learn more about his record.
Perry has his own mandate troubles to worry about.
Romney reminded the Texas governor and voters Saturday night that Perry had signed legislation requiring sixth-grade girls to get vaccinated for the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus.
"So," Romney told Perry, "it's not like we had this big difference on mandates."