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After $10,000 Offer, Some Bet Against Romney

Saturday night’s debate will probably be best remembered for Mitt Romney offering a $10,000 bet to Gov. Rick Perry of Texas. Mr. Perry was wise to decline the wager, which concerned the language that Mr. Romney used to describe his support for a health insurance mandate in his book.

But bettors at Intrade, the political futures market, are betting against Mr. Romney.

I checked the share prices for the seven major Republican contenders at 8:59 p.m. on Saturday, just before the debate began. Those prices represent estimates of the likelihood that the candidates will win their party’s nomination. At that point, Mr. Romney’s chances of winning the nomination were attributed to be 47.2 percent. They had declined to 44.4 percent, however, as of 12:27 a.m. on Sunday. Meanwhile, the share price for Newt Gingrich, who had a strong evening, rose significantly.

The decline for Mr. Romney was not nearly as bad as the one Mr. Perry experienced on Nov. 9 following his “oops” moment in that night’s debate. Mr. Perry’s price at Intrade declined to 4 percent from 9 percent almost immediately after he uttered that word. Also in contrast to the earlier debate, the bettors had a somewhat delayed reaction to Mr. Romney’s $10,000 wager. Most of the decline in his share price came not when Mr. Romney first offered the bet, but instead after the debate ended and it became clear that it would be the focal point of post-debate spin.

Whether bettors were right to react in this way is another question. But they can find some evidence for their case in last week’s New York Times/CBS News Poll of Iowa caucusgoers. In that survey, just 13 percent said that Mr. Romney “most understands the needs and problems of people like you.”

Mr. Romney has consistently done poorly on questions like these, perhaps as a result of his personal wealth and somewhat patrician demeanor. The size of the bet he proposed will not help him with it. In 2008, Mr. Romney’s support in Iowa had a fairly strong correlation with the income of the voters there; 32 percent of voters who make $100,000 per year or more voted for him, but 20 percent who make $50,000 or less did.

Still, Mr. Romney can always default to the strategy that has served other Republican candidates well throughout the nomination process: blame the news media, which have given the moment an awful lot of attention given what was otherwise a fairly strong and substantive debate.

Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.