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Mr. Perry’s rivals have been quick to seize on the issue. Mr. Romney in particular has hammered Mr. Perry. The former Massachusetts governor put out a press release Monday comparing the Texas governor with President Obama on illegal immigration. The attacks seem to be resonating with Republican voters here.

“I understand that the children who were born here were not responsible for what their parents did, but I’m a taxpayer and if my son goes to Texas, he has to pay $100,000,” said Linda Ivell, Polk County, Fla., state committeewoman. “So it’s really the in-state tuition thing that bothers me.”

Grady Johnson, a delegate from Hardee County, said he spent 30 years in law enforcement and understands Mr. Perry’s aim. Still, he opposes the law. “The state of Texas is trying to take the kids off the street, but our own American kids don’t have that same opportunity, and I think that’s why the citizens were in an uproar,” Mr. Johnson said, alluding to the boos at the debate. “He shot himself in the foot on that deal.”

Even Mr. Perry’s own Florida campaign co-chairman said he will need to do a better job of explaining his stance. John Stemberger said Mr. Perry’s position is similar to a position previously taken by former Gov. Jeb Bush. “It’s really not that unreasonable of a position,” Mr. Stemberger said. “I just think he needs to understand how to articulate it. You are going to see him as a teacher now. He is going to have to teach people to understand - not just throw some sound bites out.”