AUSTIN -- The headline in the Los Angeles Times scored Tuesday night's Republican debate this way: "Romney No. 1, Cain 9-9-9, Perry 9-1-1."
The description undiplomatically reflected a consensus of reviews proclaiming that Perry failed to deliver a breakout performance in a debate in which he was upstaged by Mitt Romney and Herman Cain, whose recent surge has made him Romney's current chief rival in the Republican nomination race.
But analysts also generally agreed that Perry's performance, while lackluster, was not fatal.
The good news from Perry's perspective is that he still has $15 million in the bank to finance aggressive ad campaigns and ramp up personal campaigning, which many say is Perry's strength. Many analysts expect him to launch a series of attack ads on television soon, primarily targeting Romney.
Perhaps another bit of good news for Perry is that Tuesday's debate, aired on Bloomberg Television, reached a limited audience. He will face much more exposure in a debate that will air Tuesday on CNN from Las Vegas.
After subpar debate performances, Perry was under pressure to turn in a solid appearance in the economics-oriented debate at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. But he received only a few questions in contrast to the attention moderators thrust on Romney and Cain, and he was gigged in many post-debate blogs and news accounts for retreating to familiar talking points and offering few details of his emerging economic plan.
"He needed to score some points off Romney, but he spent much of the debate looking a bit lost," a CBS review said. The critique said Perry was "virtually invisible for the first half of the debate" but showed improvement later.
The Los Angles Times' assessment said Perry "appeared to be the most laid-back Texan since Matthew McConaughey."
After the 90-minute forum, Perry acknowledged that he's not a championship debater, essentially repeating what he and his aides have been saying for weeks.
"I just try to get up every day and do my jobs and, you know, debates are not my strong suit," he told KTRK's Ted Oberg. "But you know, we get up and do them and we just try to let people see our passion, and I think that's what we did tonight."
Craig Robinson, editor-in-chief of the Iowa Republican, a widely read political newsletter, said he believes that the debate was "uneventful for Perry, and I think an uneventful debate actually helps him."
"It just quiets down the chatter from the last debates," Robinson told the Star-Telegram. "From that sense, I think he did just fine."
Robinson also points out that Perry has a robust Iowa political organization that is helping build grassroots support. Perry has also campaigned heavily in Iowa as well as other early-contest states.
"He's regular visitor," Robinson said. "The amount of time he's putting in Iowa could pay off."
Nate Silver wrote in The New York Times' FiveThirtyEight blog that Perry was "more subdued than in past debates" and "had a less visible presence" since Cain, who has surpassed Perry in a number of polls, received a larger share of the attention.
"Had I been advising Mr. Perry before the debate, I would have told him that he didn't need to hit any home runs. ... A solid and steady performance might suffice to reassure Republicans given the low expectations brought on by his erratic showings in past debates," Silver wrote. "Then he could adopt a more ambitious strategy at next week's debate in Nevada."
Staff writer Aman Batheja contributed to this report.
Dave Montgomery is the Star-
Telegram's Austin bureau chief.