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Following his solid debate performance, can Newt Gingrich be stopped?

In the crucial Iowa debate, Newt Gingrich came across as steady and principled, flexible or unwavering as he saw the need. The one major gaffe was Mitt Romney's $10,000 challenge to Rick Perry.

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There may be a theme in each of these responses. Gingrich is painting himself as the most experienced and knowledgeable – or at least the one with the longest history of dealing with major national and international issues, no matter how controversially.

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And he got in a shot at Romney’s claiming not to be a career politician. "Let's be candid,” Gingrich said. “The only reason you didn't become a career politician is you lost to [Sen.] Teddy Kennedy in 1994. You'd have been a 17-year politician by now if you'd won.”

In the major Oops! Department, it was not the gaffe-prone Rick Perry who had some explaining to do but Romney, the one-time front-runner now scrambling to rise above third place in Iowa polling. (Ron Paul is second behind Gingrich.)

Clearly rankled by Perry’s repeated assertion that Romney had revised a portion of his book to soften his record on health care (and the despised individual mandate), the former Massachusetts governor thrust out his hand and challenged Perry to a $10,000 bet.

Perry declined the bet – wisely for a man who frequently mentions that he grew up without running water until he was six years old.

But for Romney, the damage had been done: He put himself squarely among what occupy wall streeters call the wealthy one percent.

“Romney, a millionaire 200 hundred times over, had the most out-of-touch moment in any debate so far,” said Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz on the party’s website. The DNC helpfully pointed out that $10,000 equates to four months of pay for many American families or a year of mortgage payments for "the typical American home."

“Basic errors and bad moments are one thing. But when you make a mistake that reminds people of your greatest vulnerability, it can be a campaign killer,” wrote GOP strategist Mark McKinnon at Newsweek’s Daily Beast website.

Gingrich’s rivals will get one more chance before the Jan. 3 Iowa precinct caucuses to ding Gingrich and perhaps knock him off his first-place perch in the polls. There’s another debate Thursday night in Sioux City.

“My guess would be that from now on it’s trench warfare,” Drake University political science professor Dennis Goldford told IowaCaucus.com.

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