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Perry 'taken aback' by debate crowd reaction

TAMPA, FL -- The morning after a sometimes-rocky appearance in front of a Tea Party debate audience, Gov. Rick Perry said he was "taken aback" by cheers from some crowd members on a hypothetical question of whether a young man who decides not to buy health insurance should be refused care if he develops a life-threatening illness and be left to die.

"I was a bit taken aback by that myself," Perry told NBC News and the Miami Herald after appearing at a breakfast fundraiser in Tampa.

"We're the party of life. We ought to be coming up with ways to save lives."

Perry distinguished from that the issue of "justice," reiterating his strong support and "respect" for the death penalty on a state-by-state basis. "But the Republican party ought to be about life and protecting, particularly, innocent life," he added.

Perry also responded to the crowd's negative reaction to his support for allowing in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, saying his campaign has "the right message" on opportunities for children who were brought to the United States illegally "by no fault of their own."

"This issue is about education, it's not about immigration," he said.

"These kids showed up in our state by no fault of their own, some 2-3 years of age. And they've been in our schools, they've done their work, they've prepared themselves good, they want to be contributing members of society. So it would be I think the wrong message to say somehow or another that you can't go to our colleges, or we've going to punish you because of the sound of your last name."

"When people really think about it, I think they'll understand what we did in Texas was the right thing for Texas," he said.

Last night's debate also featured shots at Perry from both Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum on the issue of Gardasil, a vaccine that Perry mandated to be given to 12-year-old girls to prevent HPV - a disease linked to cervical cancer.

Bachmann said on NBC's TODAY Show this morning that she was approached by a woman after the debate whose daughter had suffered mental retardation as a result of getting the vaccine.

Perry dismissed that idea as similar to debunked theories linking vaccinations to autism.

"You heard the same arguments about giving our children protections from some of the childhood diseases, and they were, autism was part of that. Now we've subsequently found out that was generated and not true."

"I would suggest to you that this issue about Gardasil and making it available was about saving people's lives," he added.