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Romney becomes focus of debate -- and not in a positive way

DES MOINES, IA -- After the first few questions at tonight's GOP debate, House Speaker Newt Gingrich looked a bit like a kung-fu hero facing multiple opponents. 

Mitt Romney jabbed that Gingrich was a career politician. Ron Paul whacked Gingrich for the money he made advising Freddie Mac. And  Rick Perry noted that Gingrich (as well as Romney) supported an individual health-care mandate. 

Enter the Dragon -- Gingrich-style. 

But a funny thing happened as the other GOP candidates tried to pile on Gingrich and as he tried to fight back: Romney became the focus of attention, and not necessarily in a good way. 

First, Gingrich was able to turn the table on Romney's career-politician hit by delivering this line of the night: "The only reason you didn't become a career politician is you lost to Teddy Kennedy in 1994." Direct hit.  

Then, when Perry accused Romney of writing in his book that he wanted Massachusetts' health-care mandate to be a model for the country, Romney said he was wrong. "Ten-thousand-dollar bet?"

Perry didn't take the bet, and the Romney campaign says the reason he didn't is because independent fact-checkers -- like the Washington Post -- say that Perry is wrong. 

But it was the size of the bet Romney offered -- not the substance of the argument -- that triggered post-debate attacks from Romney's GOP rivals. 

"Ten-thousand dollars is three or four months salary" for many Iowans, Bachmann Communications Director Alice Stewart told reporters after the debate. 

A Democratic Party strategist piled on. "Mitt Romney is going to rue the day he offered a $10,000 bet in this debate. Talk about a window in to his out-of-touch soul." The strategist added, "You just can’t be more out of touch than Mitt Romney - and you can’t have a less understanding of what it’s like to be middle class."

To be sure, tough questions about Gingrich's record (about his past divorces, about his views on illegal immigration, and his views on the Middle East) dominated the middle portion of the debate. 

But if the debate produced memorable moments, it was the Ted Kennedy line and the $10,000 bet. 

And, suddenly, it's Mitt Romney -- and not Newt Gingrich -- in the hot seat.