Did Romney throw his presidential bid away for $10,000?

The Republican frontrunner tried to make a bet with a rival candidate during a televised debate, she

Mitt Romney may have got a bit carried away during the GOP candidates' debate on Saturday, when he extended a hand to candidate Rick Perry and said: "Rick, I'll tell you what: $10,000 bucks? Ten thousand bet?".

The bet -- which Perry declined to take part in, saying "I'm not in the betting business" -- was about a line in Romney's book No Apology. Perry claimed it showed support for national healthcare. .

Romney, who brought healthcare reform to Massachussets in a move that was unpopular with conservatives, said that he did not support the measure nationwide and denied that the passage appeaered in the first edition of the book.

The fact-checking site Politifact rated the claim made by Perry as "mostly false".

But although Romney might well have won the bet if Perry had accepted, he is more likely than not regretting it as he has given his rival candidates more ammunition against him.

The $10,000 bet (the first in 50 years of televised US debates) sheds light on Romney's personal wealth; he is thought to be the wealthiest candidate, with his latest financial disclosure in 2008 putting his personal wealth at between $190m and $250m. The median average income in America is $26,197. The bet could even go against his Mormon faith. But most importantly, his political rivals now have the opportunity to accuse him of being flimsy.

Both Perry and Jon Huntsman have come out with ads focusing on this debate faux pas, one titled "The truth cannot be bought" and the other "Challenge Accepted". And the Huntsman team even bought the domain name 10kbet.com.

Over at Marbury, Ian Leslie argues that the Romney campaign might even have premeditated the bet in a spectacular misjudgement:

The mistake wasn't so much the size of the bet as the fact that by attempting to create a 'moment', the Romney camp have only ended up drawing attention to their candidate's fatal flaw.

Romney's press secretary, Eric Fehrnstrom, tried to downplay the damage, claiming that Romney was joking in the way that friends might make million dollar bets with each other. It seems like the joke is on the Romney campaign.

 

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Meet Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the far left candidate gaining momentum in the French election

Ahead of the socialist candidate in the polls, the leftwinger has become a YouTube star and has more followers than Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

There are seven of them: six men and one woman will face each other tonight in the last of three debates leading to the first round of the French left’s primary on Sunday. Seven, a holy number: how could it possibly go wrong?

With the notable exception of 2002 – which saw Jacques Chirac face far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen – a socialist candidate has been in the second round of every presidential election since 1974. But given Marine Le Pen’s steady and comfortable advance in the polls, France will probably see one of its two main parties, the conservative Republicans or the Socialist party, excluded from the second round. But what if both of them were?

Two serious contenders are gaining momentum. One of them is Emmanuel Macron, François Hollande’s former economy minister currently third in the polls, and the other is Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

Mélenchon is 65. He is no newbie in French politics. He joined the Socialist party in the 1970s, was a senator for years and served as a junior minister from 2000 to 2002. He has always been an outspoken character and has certainly always been heavily to the left of the socialist party. It was no surprise to see him quit the party when it fell into disarray in 2008.

He launched the boldly named “Left Party” and stood for the 2012 presidential election, finishing in a respectable fourth place behind Hollande, Nicolas Sarkozy and Le Pen with 11.1 per cent of the votes. During the presidential campaign, he attracted media attention with his fiery speeches, brash style and, ironically, distinct hate of…the media.

Mélenchon has over the years very cleverly positioned himself as the people’s candidate. He has unfairly been referred to as a populist by his detractors. Anyone who has spent a little bit of time one-on-one with him will tell you that he has strong beliefs and is driven by more than just personal ambition.

Mélenchon passionately defends the idea of a new Republic that gives power back to the people and abolishes the “presidential monarchy”, wants more fiscal justice, a review of the European treaties to put an end to “austerity policies”, and a new ecological order which would see France drop nuclear power.

In more ways than one, his agenda is a traditional French hard-left platform, but the package is new. And therein lies his popularity.

Mélenchon is not just a man of strong beliefs, he is also an astute politician. At a time when many voters have become disillusioned with party politics, Mélenchon has freed himself of party bonds and is campaigning on a platform aiming to reach far beyond his traditional voters. He has branded his movement La France insoumise “Unsubmissive France” and uses similar rhetoric to citizen-based movements like Los Indignados in Spain.

To attract younger voters, Mélenchon successfully took to YouTube. He recently commented on having over 140,000 followers on the video-sharing website, which is more than Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, and boasted about reaching 10 million views. On 5 February, he will hold a campaign rally in Lyons and in Paris. He will be physically present in Lyons and his hologram will address the crowds in Paris.

Unlike Macron, he is proud of his left heritage and dreams of nothing less than seeing the Socialist candidate leave the race and support him as the candidate of a unified left. The polls are currently placing him ahead of whoever wins the left’s primary.

Mélenchon is successfully capitalising on left-wing voters’ disappointment in the Socialist party following Hollande’s presidency. He is holding a rally today in Florange, an industrial town that symbolises the French industrial crisis, as the state has tried and failed over the years to save its steelworks.

Most of the candidates in the left’s primary were government ministers during Hollande’s term. Some of them resigned, accusing the French President of not delivering what he was elected for, but none of them can, like Mélenchon, claim that they had no part in what is widely perceived as a failed presidency.

At this stage, it is difficult to see how Mélenchon could reach the second round of the presidential election, but the incredible dynamic of his campaign is redefining the French left. If on voting day he confirms his lead on the Socialist candidate, the Socialist party risks imploding. At tonight’s debate, Mélenchon will definitely be the elephant in the room.

Philip Kyle is a French and English freelance journalist.