By Meghashyam Mali - 12/12/11 12:19 PM EST
GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney on Monday admitted his offer of a $10,000 bet to Rick Perry during the last Republican debate was an “outrageous number” and tried to downplay the controversy over the challenge.
Romney called his bet to Perry “an outrageous number to answer an outrageous charge from Rick” in an interview from Manchester, N.H., with "Fox and Friends."
“It’s like saying, 'hey, I’ll bet you a million bucks, x, y and z,' ” said Romney.
Opponents have seized on the statement, hoping to paint Romney as out of touch with voters faced with economic woes.
During the debate, Romney had sought to dispute Perry's claim that he had altered his book to remove passages revealing support for individual healthcare mandates.
"You've raised that before," Romney had said about the Texas governor’s claim that there were two versions of Romney’s book.
When Perry insisted the claim was true, Romney responded: "Rick, I'll tell you what ... $10,000 bet?"
"I'm not in the bettin' business, but I'll show you the book," Perry replied.
On Sunday, Perry returned to the issue, calling Romney “out of touch.”
"I'm driving out to the station this morning [and] I'm sure I didn't drive by a house that anyone in Iowa would even think about that a $10,000 bet was possible," Perry said.
In his Monday interview, Romney tried to return the focus to President Obama, and continued to hit the White House for its handling of the nation’s economy.
Romney said Obama and Democrats were “trying to deflect blame.”
“The president is the person who’s failed the American people and middle class,” said Romney. “He’s played 80 rounds of golf.”
“He’ll do anything to deflect from his record and it’s not going to work,” he added. “The president has been in office for 3 years, he’s forgetting that,” said Romney.
In an interview broadcast on CBS’s "60 Minutes" on Sunday the president said that it would take a “long-term” effort to bring back the economy, perhaps even more than one president to see the recovery through.
“I agree with him on that,” Romney said.
Romney also downplayed the challenge from new GOP front-runner Newt Gingrich.
Romney said that it was still an “early time” in the Republican primary fight and that he expected the race to be “very fluid.”
“In the final analysis I think I’ll be the guy who gets the nod,” he predicted.
“A lot of people have risen in the polls. After people take a closer look they come back down,” said Romney of his opponents.
He also had harsh words for Gingrich, hitting the former House Speaker’s statements that the Palestinians were an “invented” people and “terrorists,” and for his insistence that he did not lobby for mortgage giant Freddie Mac
Romney said that Gingrich had shown “erratic outspokenness,” and that while that trait was acceptable on the campaign trail, it would be problematic in a president.
Romney also called on Gingrich to return more than $1 million in fees he earned working for Freddie Mac. “He was at a debate saying the politicians who took money from Fannie and Freddie should go to jail, which is outrageous in itself,” said Romney.
“He was in the business of connecting folks with government,” he added. “That’s very different than the private sector.”
Gingrich has said that any fees he received were not for lobbying work and that he served only as a private-sector consultant.
New polls show Gingrich expanding his double-digit lead over Romney in three of the first four early-voting states.