Of all the punches thrown at Gov. Rick Perry during last week’s Republican presidential debate in Florida, few landed harder than questions about Perry’s support for a Texas bill allowing illegal immigrants to pay in-state college tuition.

Perry signed the bill, HB 1403, in 2001 with the support of all but four legislators, making Texas the first state to grant in-state tuition to young undocumented immigrants who have lived in the state for three years and are seeking permanent residency.

Perry’s forceful defense of the legislation — he said skeptics of the bill don’t “have a heart” — was the talk of conservative activists in Orlando this weekend for Presidency 5, the three-day Republican Party of Florida convention that hosted the debate.

The political damage became clear Saturday, when Perry finished a distant second to businessman Herman Cain in a presidential straw poll conducted at the gathering.

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