DALLAS - Governor Rick Perry came out swinging at CNN's Tuesday night Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas.
On immigration, he accused Mitt Romney of hypocrisy for hiring illegal immigrant yard workers. And he again distanced himself from the Dallas pastor who said Romney's Mormon faith is a cult.
It was the stronger Perry performance many were looking for.
Perry, who took hits from Romney in past debates for supporting in-state college tuition for illegal immigrants, went on the attack.
He criticized Romney after the media found illegal immigrants working on Romney's yard in 2006 and 2007.
"[T]he idea that you stand here before us and how you are strong on immigration is on its face the height of hypocrisy," Perry said.
And he didn't let up as Romney tried to respond.
Perry interrupted Romney, "It's time for you to tell the truth, it's for you to tell the truth. But the American people want the truth."
Romney said he fired the lawn company when he learned they hired illegal immigrants.
But Perry appeared to go too far when he didn't let up.
"[Romney] said there is a magnet of people that will hire illegals and you are number one on that list, sir, and people need to understand that," Perry said. "You are one of the problems, Mitt."
At that, there were loud, sustained boos from the audience.
When Romney's Mormon faith came up, Perry again put space between him and First Baptist Dallas Pastor Robert Jeffress, who called Mormonism a "cult" after introducing Perry at a Washington D.C. speech a week and a half ago.
"That individual expressed an opinion," Perry said. "I didn't agree with it, Mitt. And I said so."
Romney said of Jeffress' comment, "That idea that we should choose people based upon their religion for public office is what I find to be most troubling."
What troubled Perry the first four debates were his responses or lack of focus.
He asserted himself in this fifth debate.
But will it be enough to rebuild GOP voter support?
Perry will find out over the next three weeks as he picks up his campaigning in early primary and caucus states. The next debate is in three weeks, and Perry clearly hopes this debate acts a springboard.
Herman Cain and his 9-9-9 plan came under attack from Perry and others Tuesday night, testing whether Cain can stay near the top of the polls and keep the support of voters that Perry once had.