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Perry Fights for Airtime at South Carolina Debate

While most of Monday night's Republican presidential debate featured the top-tier candidates sniping at each other, Gov. Rick Perry was just trying to stay relevant. Ben Philpott of KUT News and the Tribune reports.

Gov. Rick Perry on the campaign trail with Gavin Stanley, 4.

Just about every time one of the top four candidates took a question, somewhere in the answer there was a slap at one of the other three — which then led to plenty of back-and-forth between the candidates as they debated who was telling the truth and who would make the best candidate.

Audio: Ben Philpott's story for KUT News

But from his fifth-place perch on stage, Gov. Rick Perry had little influence, even when he launched his own attacks, like when he challenged front-runner Mitt Romney to release his tax returns.

"As Republicans, we can not fire our nominee in September. We need to know now," Perry said. "So I hope you'll put your tax records out there this week so the people of South Carolina can take a look and decide if, you know, we got a flawed candidate or not."

Romney chose not to respond, which kept Perry from having any additional chances to jump in. Instead he had to wait for the next question directed to him. It was a long wait.

In fact, Perry would sometimes go 20 minutes without any attention from the moderators — or his opponents. When he did get more questions, Perry mostly regurgitated lines from his stump speeches: 20-percent flat tax, a part-time Congress, a secure U.S./Mexico border.

His biggest splash of the night came when he defended four Marines seen urinating on Afghan corpses in a video that surfaced last week. Perry criticized members of the Obama administration for calling the Marines' actions "despicable."

"Let me tell you what's utterly despicable: cutting Danny Pearl's head off and showing the video of it," Perry said as the crowd cheered him on. "Hanging our contractors from bridges, that's utterly despicable, for our president for the secretary of state for the department of defense secretary to make those kinds of statements about those young marines."

But even after cheers from the crowd, the debate quickly moved on to the other candidates, leaving Perry to watch and wait for his next question.

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Politics 2012 elections Griffin Perry Rick Perry