DEBATE: Romney, Gingrich Spar, Fend Off Rivals - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

DEBATE: Romney, Gingrich Spar, Fend Off Rivals

MSNBC.COM - The emerging political rivalry between Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney simmered during Saturday night's GOP presidential debate, but at no point boiled over during the two-hour gathering. 

The former House speaker and the former Massachusetts governor sniped at each other throughout the debate, seeking to draw contrasts with each other at a debate at Drake University just 24 days before Iowans participate in the state's Jan. 3 caucuses.

The other four presidential hopefuls, meanwhile, took turns piling on Gingrich, the newly-minted frontrunner according to polls, and Romney, the candidate who's been consistently toward the top of the field throughout the campaign, but hasn't been able to seal the deal with conservatives.

The Gingrich-Romney spat was most stark during the first half hour of the debate, when Romney and Gingrich went at each other over their own political backgrounds. Romney stressed his private sector experience versus GIngrich's time in Congress.

"Let's be candid: the only reason you didn't become a career politician is because you lost to Teddy Kennedy in 1994," Gingrich said in response, delivering a zinger in Romney's direction. "It's a bit much; you'd have been a 17-year career politician if you'd won."

Romney also lampooned some of Gingrich's more unconventional policy proposals.

"Speaker Gingrich and I have a lot of areas where we disagree," Romney said. "We can start with his idea to have a lunar colony that would mine minerals from the moon."

The two candidates sparred lightly throughout the rest of the debate, all while weathering criticism from the rest of the field.

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann linked Gingrich and Romney together on the issue of a health insurance mandate, coining a new moniker to tie Romney and Gingrich together. She said the answer for GOP voters "is Michele Bachmann, not 'Newt Romney.'"

Romney faced criticism, too, from Perry — his main opponent in past debates this fall — over the health reform plan he installed as governor. Perry renewed criticism based on a line in an edition of a book written by Romney, prompting the former Massachusetts governor to offer a $10,000 bet with Perry. It was an eyebrow-raising moment, given the optics of a multimillionaire offering to make a hefty bet, considering the Romney campaign's intent focus on the economy and the middle class.

The Democratic National Committee (DNC), which has been dogged in its criticism of Romney during the primary, picked up on the moment, emailing reporters a list of items the average American family could buy with $10,000.

"Mitt Romney is going to rue the day he offered a $10,000 bet in this debate," said a senior Democratic Party strategist. "Talk about a window in to his out-of-touch soul. And he did it in the same debate where he again called the payroll tax cut for the middle class a temporary band-aid." click here to read more

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