Defending himself against another attack on RomneyCare, Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who provided the model for the reviled ObamaCare, bet Rick Perry $10,000 that his criticism was wrong. The current governor of Texas didn’t take the bait. But desperate men make desperate bets. And in the sweepstakes for the Republican nomination for president, Romney is one desperate fella.

The former Massachusetts governor has had to endure the “anybody but Mitt” wanderlust of the primary electorate. And now a batch of polls appear to show that the latest flavor-of-the-month, Newt Gingrich, is a lingering taste gaining favor by the day.

Nate Silver at notes that after Romney’s bet ploy, the candidate’s standing in the Intrade political futures market fell by 2.8 percent. Perry’s fell by 0.1 percent. But Gingrich’s standing boomed by 4.2 percent, the most of all the candidates at the GOP jamboree in Iowa on Saturday. When it comes to bets, the markets and likely primary voters are putting their “money” on the polarizing pontificator from “the Peach state.”

Last week, a CNN/Time magazine poll had Gingrich narrowing Romney’s lead in New Hampshire to nine points. That survey also showed the former House speaker leading the pack in Iowa (33 to 20), South Carolina (43 to 20) and Florida (48 to 25). Those findings are backed up by the NBC News/Marist poll released Sunday. Gingrich leads Romney by 19 points in South Carolina (42 to 23). He leads him by 15 points in Florida (44 to 29).

The conventional wisdom is that the Jan. 10 New Hampshire primary is Romney’s firewall. But the reality is that the Jan. 31 primary in Florida is. In a piece on the “January collision” between Romney and Gingrich, The Post’s Phil Rucker quoted a strategist who said, “Romney cannot afford to lose two in a row. Thus, Florida is key.” If these poll numbers become actual votes Romney will be in big trouble -- and Florida could be his Waterloo.

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