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Republican candidates clash at Las Vegas debate

October 18, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Republican presidential candidates clashed in Las Vegas Tuesday night at the eighth GOP debate.

Seven Republican presidential candidates participated in the debate.

It was former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum's turn to play the part of equal-opportunity aggressor during Tuesday's Republican presidential campaign debate.

Desperate for traction, the former Pennsylvania senator spent a chunk of the face-off in Las Vegas hounding Mitt Romney for the health care bill he signed while governor of Massachusetts and Texas Gov. Rick Perry for his support of the 2008 Wall Street bailout.

And while Romney and Perry have clashed for weeks in what at times has seemed to be a two-man race, Santorum aggressively argued that neither were authentic conservatives worthy of the GOP nomination.

"I didn't run as a Democrat in Texas when it was popular," Santorum said, referring to Perry's past as a Democrat before being elected as governor.

"I ran in 1994, the same year Mitt did in Massachusetts," Santorum continued, referring to Romney's losing U.S. Senate race against Ted Kennedy. "He ran as a liberal."

With scant showing in polls and not much money, Santorum tried to claw his way into relevancy as rivals before him have done.

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and businessman Herman Cain both saw their standing in polls rise after strong debate performances.

It will be another three weeks until Santorum has another opportunity to stand out before a national television audience - and appear relevant - alongside his better-known and better-funded rivals. The next debate is scheduled for Nov. 9.

One candidate boycotted the event. Jon Huntsman boycotted the Nevada debate and caucus after the state pushed its contest ahead of New Hampshire's primary.

"The viability of New Hampshire as the first primary state in America must remain a tradition," said Huntsman.

Republicans in Iowa have set a date for their highly-anticipated presidential nominating contest. The Iowa caucuses will be held on Jan. 3.

The caucuses were originally going to be held in February but were re-scheduled after Florida moved up its primary to Jan. 31. This as New Hampshire is threatening to move its traditional first-in-the-nation primary to December.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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