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Perry struggles to name third government agency he promised to close

The Texas governor repeatedly failed to name the third agency after multiple attempts, a moment that could prove to be his worst of the GOP debates and reaffirm to many Republican voters that he is a weak debater who might not be ready to take on President Obama head to head.

After being asked about working across the aisle, Perry pivoted to his flat-tax plan, then turned to Ron Paul to promise his plan would close three government agencies.

"It’s three agencies of government, when I get there, that are gone," Perry said. "Commerce, Education and, the, uh, what’s the third one … "

Paul offered to help: "Five, you have five."

"Oh, five, OK," Perry replied. "So: Commerce, Education and the … " He again drew a blank.

CNBC contributor John Harwood, the debate moderator, then suggested the Environmental Protection Agency, to cheers and applause.

"EPA, there we go," Perry said with a laugh.

Harwood asked Perry whether the EPA was the third agency.

"No sir, we’re talking about the agencies of government ... EPA needs to be rebuilt, there’s no doubt about that," Perry responded.

"But you can’t name the third one?" Harwood asked.

"The third agency of government I would do away with  the Education, the Commerce and — let’s see, I can’t. The third one I can’t," Perry replied. "Sorry. Oops."

Perry has slid in the polls, largely because of a series of weak debate performances, and needed a strong performance Wednesday to help turn around his campaign. With this moment, he failed that test.

About 10 minutes later, Perry finally remembered and offered his response. "And by the way, that was the Department of Energy I was reaching for a while ago," he said.