Despite stumbles, Perry vows to stay in presidential race

Posted Thursday, Nov. 10, 2011  comments  Print Reprints
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A closer look

Perry on the federal agencies he wants to cut:

Perry: "... It's three agencies of government when I get there that are gone: Commerce, Education, and the ... what's the third one, there? Let's see."

...

Moderator: "... You can't name the third one?"

Perry: "The third agency of government. I would do away with Education, Commerce and let's see ... I can't. The third one, I can't. I'm sorry. Oops."

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AUSTIN - Gov. Rick Perry and his campaign turned to self-deprecating humor on Thursday to help overcome an embarrassing debate gaffe but analysts said the potential impact to Perry's struggling campaign was deadly serious.

Perry, who was unable to remember one of three federal agencies he would target for elimination, agreed to deliver the famed Top Ten List parody on the late-night David Letterman Show.

And his campaign, in the political equivalent of making lemonade out of lemons, turned the memory lapse into a light-hearted fund-raising appeal by asking supporters to submit a $5 contribution with the name of every federal agency they would like to forget.

The one-time Republican n frontrunner appeared on morning news shows to dismiss speculation that his stumble in the Republican debate in Michigan on Wednesday would drive him out of the race.

He vowed to forge ahead with his core message of job creation and limited government and remained committed to participate in the next Republican debate in South Carolina on Saturday night.

"Obviously I stepped in it," Perry told CNN in a damage control offensive that began shortly after the debate ended.

He added: "I have my moment of humor with it and I press on and understand that there are a lot more serious things facing this country than whether or not I could remember the Department of Energy at an inappropriate time."

Declared Perry: "This ain't a day for quitting nothing."

But Perry's stumble, coming on top of poor performances in earlier debates and a hyper-animated speech in New Hampshire, dominated post-debate news coverage throughout the day Thursday as analysts delivered a litany of withering critiques with terms such as "brain freeze," "Chernobyl style melt-down" and "slow-motion brain wreck."

Some declared the Perry campaign effectively dead while others said the Texas governor, with his well-financed campaign organization, could remain in the race but was probably permanently sidelined as a genuine contender for the Republican nomination.

'Dead man walking'

"Perry dug his own grave last night," said Republican consultant Mark McKinnon of Austin, who served as a campaign adviser to former President George W. Bush. "He may continue on through Iowa to try and save some face. But he's a dead man walking."

Perry, who is waging his first national campaign after more than a quarter-century in Texas politics, has steadily dropped in the polls after a brief stint as Republican frontrunner. He was counting on Wednesday's debate - his sixth since entering the race in mid-August -- to tout his evolving economic plan and re-energize a once-promising campaign. But he went blank midway through the event as he began naming three agencies on his hit list.

"It's three agencies of government when I get there that are gone: Commerce, Education, and the ... what's the third one, there? Let's see." He then acknowledged that he couldn't remember the third one, adding, "Oops."

Experts said many voters will likely sympathize with the Perry campaign's depiction of the gaffe as a human mistake that virtually anyone could make.

But, at the same time, they said, Perry muffed his own talking points and raised doubts about his ability to go toe-to-toe in a debate against President Obama or to deal with foreign leaders should he become president.

The extent of any damage to the campaign will become more apparent with new polls and in Perry's ability to continue raising money.

Perry amassed more than $17 million in seven weeks to become the third biggest fund-raiser in the presidential race after Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, a dominant contender for the Republican nomination.

"A gaffe like that has the potential to stop the flow of money into Gov. Perry's war chest. The larger the gaffe, the greater the potential for the flow of money to stop. That said, Gov. Perry's supporters may also be willing to forgive -- or overlook - his forgetfulness on stage last night," said Michael Beckel of the Center for Responsive Politics, which monitors campaign spending.

"Either way, Gov. Perry ended the third quarter in strong financial shape, and as long as he doesn't lose his deepest-pocketed supporters, he'll still be able to get his message out ahead of the impending early caucuses and primaries."

Donors still 'excited'

Perry has set his sights on a strong showing in the Jan 3. Iowa caucuses.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, one of Perry's major fund-raisers, said that donors "remain very excited about the Perry campaign," predicting that fall-out from Wednesday's debate will have no significant effect on fundraising or the governor's candidacy.

"He has come out very, very strong why he should be the Republican nominee and a minor debate gaffe is not a defining moment about who would be the best president," said Abbott.

The Republican attorney general said he has already surpassed his own fund-raising target for Perry with $248,000 in pledges, including $180,000 in donations that have gone into the campaign treasury.

Thomas Wiebe, the CEO of a design firm in Tampa, Fla., who has given $500 to the campaign, said he continues to support and his conservative message but may be forced to consider other candidates if Perry loses staying power. "We just kind of feel bad for him," said Wiebe. "I still like him a lot but I haven't made my final decision."

Henry Barbour, a Mississippi consultant who has agreed to raise $500,000 for the Perry campaign, conceded that the memory lapse was "embarrassing" but said he believes "there is still ample time for him to make his case about why he should be president. I'm sure that last night is not going to help but what is important is how you respond to adversity."

In an overnight email to supporters, Team Perry said the Texas governor was the not first politician to make a verbal stumble, noting that "We've all had human moments." The email also asked supporters to send in the names of federal agencies they would like to forget along with a $5 donation for each one.

"We hope you have a long list," said the campaign. "And we promise we will write down every last idea. So we don't forget."

Dave Montgomery is the Star-Telegram's Austin Bureau chief, 512-476-4294

RICK PERRY DELIVERS THE TOP TEN ON LETTERMAN

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Rick Perry delivers the Top Ten on Letterman

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