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Gov. Perry's Las Vegas Debate Strategy

Gage Skidmore (cc) flickr

By Ben Philpott, KUT News

Dallas, TX –

Instead of defending his record as governor, Rick Perry went on the offensive against his chief opponent Mitt Romney in a Republican presidential candidates debate in Las Vegas. KUT's Ben Philpott reports on Perry's strategy.

Governor Perry spent the first 30 minutes of his debate performance disparaging current frontrunner Herman Cain's so called 9-9-9 tax overhaul plan. But it was his response to a question on the number of Texas children without health insurance that changed everything. Rather than answering the question, Perry zeroed in on Mitt Romney and immigration.

Rick Perry: And Mitt, you lose all of your standing, from my perspective, because you hired illegals in your home and you knew about it for a year. And the idea that you stand here before us and talk about that you're strong on immigration is on its face the height of hypocrisy.

Perry referred to a 2006 the Boston Globe report that the lawn care company contracted by Mitt Romney had hired some illegal immigrants to do the work. Romney said he gave the company a warning. But in 200y, the Globe went back and found illegal immigrants again. The lawn care company was then fired by Romney.

Whether or not Perry's attack will hold up the morning after, it gave the Texas governor a chance to deflect attention from his own immigration record - a subject that he's stumbled with on the campaign trail. Perry deflected again when Romney referred to the Texas law that allows foreign born children of some illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at state colleges and universities.

Rick Perry: "Well, the bottom line is that we have a federal government that has failed. There is a clear problem here. And he hit the nail on the head a while ago. He said there was a magnet of people that will hire illegals. And you are number one on that list, sir."

In what was by far the most heated debate of the GOP race so far, the question of illegal immigration and border security took nearly a third of the evening's agenda. And by sparring repeatedly over which of them had less credibility on the issue, Perry and Romney appeared to agree that the best way to pull away from the pack at this point may simply be to ignore it. The next GOP debate is November 9th at Oakland University in Rochester Michigan.

Reporting in Las Vegas for KUT News, I'm Ben Philpott.