Mitt Romney and Rick Perry share a moment in last night's debate. Chris Carlson/AP/Press Association Images
Vegas showdown

Romney and Perry clash in fiercest Republican presidential debate so far

There were fiery exchanges over big conservative issues like immigration and one candidate’s tax overhaul plan.

CANDIDATES VYING TO be the Republican Party’s nominee for the US presidential election next year clashed in the fiercest primary debate so far last night in Las Vegas.

Frontrunner Mitt Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, came under intensive attack from rivals with Texas governor Rick Perry leading the most personal barbs on issues such as consistency, health care policy and immigration.

The New York Times says it was the “most acrimonious debate so far” with a little more than two months before states across the US start voting in primaries and caucuses to select the candidate to face Barack Obama next autumn.

The influential Drudge Report leads with the headline “Republicans gone wild” adding that host Anderson Cooper had “egged” on the candidates who engaged in often bitter exchanges.

The most testy exchange came as Perry questioned Romney’s credentials on immigration, a hot-button issue for conservatives, alleging that Romney had hired illegal immigrants to work on his lawn.


Of the other candidates, former Godfather’s Pizza chairman and CEO Herman Cain, who has performed well in recent polls, came under attack from all sides for his 9-9-9 tax plan which advocates the abolishment of all taxes in favour of 9 per cent corporate tax rate, a 9 per cent national sales tax, and a 9 per cent income tax.

Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann speculated that the sales tax could be raised to 90 per cent in congress by Democrats while former Pennsylvania governor Rick Santorum pointed to an analysis which found the plan would raise taxes for 94 per cent of Americans, the Huffington Post reports.

Of the others, former House speaker Newt Gingrich appeared to tire of the debate exchanges saying that “maximising the bickering is not the best road to the White House.”

His performance drew praise from former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, an influential voice in the conservative movement, who reckoned Gingrich won last night’s encounter and would “clobber” Obama in a debate, according to Real Clear Politics.

But the Guardian adds that Gingrich, Santorum, Bachmann, and Texas congressman Ron Paul were overshadowed in the debate in front of a 1,500-strong Republican audience but the focus on Romney, Cain and Perry who have performed the best in the most recent polls.

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