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Gloves come off, candidates go all out in Las Vegas debate

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Story highlights

Seven of the top GOP presidential candidates faced off in Las Vegas

Jon Huntsman decided to boycott Nevada and instead will campaign in New Hampshire

Front-runners Cain, Romney and Perry came under frequent attack

Romney and Perry trade sharp accusations

Las Vegas CNN —  

Tuesday night was fight night in Las Vegas.

Seven Republican presidential candidates clashed sharply over issues such as illegal immigration, taxes and health care at a presidential debate in Nevada sponsored by CNN and the Western Republican Leadership Conference.

But it was the three Republican front-runners – former Godfather’s Pizza executive Herman Cain, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Gov Rick Perry – who came under frequent attack.

The long-standing bad blood between Romney and Perry boiled over in the debate’s first hour as the two GOP heavyweights traded harsh accusations and showed flashes of anger.

Romney laughed in Perry’s face when the Texan criticized his rival for hiring illegal immigrants to work on his lawn, a controversy uncovered by The Boston Globe during Romney’s first presidential bid in 2008.

“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,” Perry said, turning straight to Romney. “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.”