Sinking Perry works to control damage after embarrassing debate gaffe

Rick Perry’s presidential campaign is furiously working to control the damage following an embarrassing gaffe in Wednesday’s GOP presidential debate.

Perry made appearances on three morning talk shows Thursday to fess up for the mistake, in which he forgot that the Department of Energy is a third federal agency he’s said he’d like to eliminate.

“I will tell you that I don’t mind saying clearly that I stepped in it last night,” he said Thursday on NBC’s “Today.”

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“But I think I’m kind of like most Americans, and there are so many agencies of government that they’d like to forget, that the Department of Energy was one of those,” said Perry, who smiled and chuckled about the mistake.

Perry’s campaign sent an email to supporters pointing out the gaffes of previous presidents.

“We’ve all had human moments,” the email stated before referring to verbal slip-ups by Presidents Obama, Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford.

The Perry campaign is also directing supporters to a website where they can vote on which government agencies should be forgotten.


Wednesday’s embarrassing moment is the latest in a series of errors during debates that have been sinking Perry’s campaign.

When he entered the race in August, he shot to the top of polls and was seen as the conservative candidate who could take out Mitt Romney. Perry has served for more than a decade as governor of Texas, and can tout a growing state economy that has created jobs. He also has money and an organized campaign that seemed as if it would give him an advantage over more cash-strapped candidates.

But Perry has been a disaster in the debates, and his frequent slip-ups while engaging with his rival candidates have contributed to falling poll numbers. GOP strategists on Wednesday were openly mulling whether he could survive the latest mistake, though Perry said Thursday he would remain in the race.

According to the Real Clear Politics average, Perry is in fifth place in Iowa with 7.5 percent of the vote, and in sixth place in New Hampshire with only 3.3 percent.

Perhaps most devastatingly, Perry is in fourth place in South Carolina at 10.3 percent. The Texas governor was hoping for a boost from the Palmetto State, where his campaign is headquartered and where he first announced his candidacy.

Perry’s campaign has acknowledged he’s not the smoothest debater, but argued he’s the most principled conservative in the Republican field.

That message is an attack on Romney, who many on the right believe has shifted his positions on some issues, including healthcare, and also on businessman Herman Cain, who has supplanted Perry at the top of polls.

Cain is dealing with allegations of sexual harassment from his time as head of the National Restaurant Association, and Wednesday’s debate was the first since those stories broke. Yet Cain was overshadowed Wednesday after Perry’s lapse of memory.

Perry’s campaign on Thursday recalled gaffes by politicians in both parties who overcame embarrassing moments to take the Oval Office.

In 2008, then-candidate Obama told supporters he planned to campaign “in all 57 states.” In a 1984 debate, then-President Reagan seemed confused during his closing remarks and gave a rambling speech about wandering along the Pacific coast, and in his losing 1976 campaign then-President Ford bit into a tamale without removing the husk while in Texas.

“President Obama is still trying to find all 57 states. Ronald Reagan got lost somewhere on the Pacific Highway in an answer to a debate question. Gerald Ford ate a tamale without removing the husk. And tonight Rick Perry forgot the third agency he wants to eliminate. Just goes to show there are too damn many federal agencies,” Perry’s campaign stated. 

Despite the campaign obituaries being circulated by the media, Perry said, he has no intention of dropping out of the race, and would in fact participate at the next debate Saturday in South Carolina.

“It’s the 236th birthday of the United States Marine Corps — if there was a day to stay in the fight, this is it,” he said. “So you bet I’m going to continue on, and this debate is about ideas — it’s not about the slickest debater or whether anyone has made a mistake or not; we’re all going to make mistakes.”

When asked how “Saturday Night Live” might choose to parody his performance, Perry said only, “I hope they get the agencies right.”