Did Perry help faltering campaign in Vegas debate?

October 19, 2011 3:39:49 PM PDT
Texas Governor Rick Perry went on the offensive at the Republican presidential candidate debate in Las Vegas on Tuesday night.

After a couple of lackluster performances in previous debates, Perry doubled down in Vegas and showed some aggression. But did it help his faltering campaign?

Tuesday night is a great example of why this primary season is so different, with polls changing dramatically every few weeks. We talked to a lot of people Wednesday about the debate and there's no consensus about how the new and improved aggressive debater Perry came across.

From the outset, Perry took shots at frontrunner Mitt Romney, calling him a conservative of convenience and then 30 minutes later launching into that personal attack on Romney about how he allegedly hired illegal immigrants to work at his house.

Minutes later, Romney was forced to admit he hired a lawn company that hired undocumented workers and he knew about it for a year before he fired them. Perry brought it up again later, and he was booed in the debate hall.

Afterwards, audience members were not impressed with the exchange.

"It's not getting better. It's getting worse. It's polarizing the country," said one viewer.

"Yeah, that was a little surprise for me," said another viewer.

"Some of the candidates didn't exhibit the class that other candidates did," another said.

"I think Governor Perry's hurt himself," a debate viewer said.

But pundits Wednesday morning said things like Perry, from politico.com, "finally scored points against Romney," and that this was "a dramatic turn-around."

The Washington Post said Perry was "terrific early on" and "offered his best showing yet."

Win or lose, it leaves us with the question about whether Romney did anything wrong. We checked with ICE and several lawyers Wednesday who told us that hiring a company who then hires an undocumented worker wouldn't open you up to any legal trouble in almost every circumstance.

But politically, this is likely a charge that will stick as Perry and Romney go after each other away from the debate stage.

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