During an exchange with Texas Gov. Rick Perry on the issue of undocumented immigration during Tuesday night's Republican presidential debate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney found himself forcing an extended awkward laugh.
The reaction from Romney came after Perry asserted, "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."
After laughing, Romney said, "Rick, I don't think that I've ever hired an illegal in my life."
HuffPost's Elise Foley reports on how the pack of candidates sharing the spotlight in Nevada generally addressed the immigration issue over the course of the debate.
The candidates threw around the word "illegals" liberally, but softened their tone when a Latino man stood to ask the candidates how they would appeal to Latino voters -- perhaps reminding them that they were in a state with the 12th largest Latino population in the country. Undocumented immigrants, though not exclusively Latinos, make up 7.2 percent of Nevada's population.
Although Latinos do not necessarily support undocumented immigration, a strong majority -- 79 percent -- oppose laws like Arizona's S.B. 1070 that crack down on unauthorized immigration, and even more support paths to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the country, according to a report from the Pew Hispanic Center.
And in Nevada, Latino voters hold major power in elections, particularly as the state's Latino population grows. Latinos are partially credited with keeping Democratic Sen. Harry Reid from losing his seat in 2010 to Republican immigration hawk Sharron Angle, who released multiple ads featuring menacing photos of Latino men depicted as dangerous criminals.
Perhaps with this in mind, Romney took a "step back" to bring up his support for legal immigration.
"I think it's important for us as Republicans on this stage to say something that hasn't been said, and that's that every person here loves legal immigration," he said. "We respect people who come here legally."
More:Rick Perry Illegal Immigration GOP Debate Republican Presidential Candidates Mitt Romney Elections 2012
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