Just how bad was it? Everyone on stage was laughing nervously. The audience didn't seem to know how to react. It was so bad that Gov. Rick Perry himself headed to the spin room after the debate to talk to the press — something he's never done as governor or lieutenant governor.
“Yeah I stepped in it man. Yeah it was embarrassing — of course it was," Perry said when asked if it he was red-faced.
Audio: Ben Philpott's story for KUT News
It was a quick effort at public damage control. But in private, it's clear his operatives are scrambling. Until last night, no matter how poor his debate performance or how lackluster he fared in the polls, Perry was a fundraising machine. His first fundraising report at the beginning of October showed he pulled in more money than any other GOP candidate and set up a solid cushion to cover television ads and campaign travel to the early primary states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
But now, less than two months to go before Election Day in those states, the Perry campaign will be trying to determine whether last night's fumble will stanch the flow of money needed to make successful runs in those primaries. Lose in each of those three states, especially South Carolina, and there won't be any more money or momentum to continue a campaign.
Just seconds after Perry's lapse, one reporter asked whether he had just witnessed the Perry campaign die on stage. Based on the governor's post debate appearance, if that's the case, he’s ready to go down swinging.
“The bottom line is, I may have forgotten [the Department of Energy], but I haven’t forgotten my conservative principles," Perry said in a clear swipe at GOP front-runner and polished debater Mitt Romney.