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All bets are off: Romney girds for long delegate fight


HUDSON, N.H. -- After a full day's fallout in the media over last night's offer to bet Texas Gov. Rick Perry $10,000 to settle who had the correct interpretation of a line in Mitt Romney's book, the former Massachusetts governor today laughed off the exchange, and said his wife suggested the wager was not his finest moment.  

"Actually after the debate was over Ann came up and gave me a kiss and said I was great," Romney said when asked by a reporter whether the massive bet made him look out of touch. "She said there are a lot of things you do well. Betting isn’t one of them."

Asked whether the bet was the largest the multimillionaire Romney had ever made, he simply chuckled and demurred. "That's all I've got," he said, seeking to move on.

Romney spoke to reporters today at the conclusion of a town hall event here, sponsored by Republican group, 'We The People," and attended by more than 200 supporters and undecided voters. In the town hall he stayed largely on message. He fielded questions from a supportive crowd on issues ranging from health care to Israel, and continuing to hammer home his new theme: that of two competing visions for America's future, one of merit, the other of entitlements.

In his speech and while taking questions from the attendees, Romney did not discuss his GOP rivals, and seemed inclined not to engage with them even when prodded by reporters. When asked during a press conference, Romney reiterated that it was up to the American people to decide whether the twice-divorced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's marital history was relevant to his presidential aspirations, and said he could offer no real cause for Gingrich's rise, beyond voters taking a "very careful look" at each and every candidate.

Polls have consistently shown Romney in the mid-20s, at or near the lead, but with a ceiling. The highest he has gotten in the NBC-Wall Street Journal poll was 30%, in fact, back in July.

Pressed by reporters to describe how he might make up ground in early states like South Carolina and Florida, where new NBC-Marist polling now shows him trailing Gingrich by double digits, Romney sounded a confident note, but also predicted he might be in for a long primary fight that stretched well beyond the early voting states. 

I'm going to get the nomination," Romney said. "I can't tell you exactly which order I'll be able to pick up states in, but I'm convinced that I'll be successful in this effort if I'm able to stay true to the things I believe and the message I deliver and provide it in a very compelling way and I hope to be the nominee."

He continued, "We’re going to start in Iowa, and it’s going to go on, and its going to go on and go on. I’d like to close real early but my experience is, particularly with delegates being awarded on a proportional basis, why who knows how long it could go? We’re prepared to go on a nice, long, successful campaign."