To many, Gov. Rick Perry's downfall could be traced back to the debates.
From his "heartless" comment, to questioning the allegiances of Turkey's government to, of course, his "oops" moment, in which he forgot he wanted to eliminate the Department of Energy.
Audio: Ben Philpott's story for KUT News
And then there were the little things, like forgetting people can vote at age 18 instead of 21, saying there are only eight members of the U.S. Supreme Court, and proclaiming during his December Iowa bus tour that his favorite Christmas movie is It’s a Wonderful World.
Perry then talked about how much he liked Jimmy Stewart. A minor misstep: Perry obviously knew which movie he was talking about. But in total, the little stumbles helped feed the narrative that the governor wasn’t ready for prime time. Especially, says Perry's South Carolina campaign chairman Katon Dawson, when debates and the media narrative seem to fuel candidates' ups and downs in the polls.
“Little tough to overcome the drive-by shootings of reality TV shows, it was," Dawson said. "And the media who pounces on 30 seconds. It was tough on us and tough on him."
So tough that even after a good December campaigning in Iowa, where he cut down on stumbles and delivered concise stump speeches, he still finished fifth.
But Perry said Thursday he’s got more work to do. “And this I know," Perry told a room full of reporters Thursday. "I’m not done fighting for the cause of conservatism. As a matter of fact, I have just begun to fight."
What kind of fight awaits him as he returns to the governor’s office remains unclear.
“His popularity is obviously eroded. His staff is tattered and bruised and pointing fingers at each other. His ability to raise money in Texas is probably been diminished," said Harvey Kronberg, editor of Quorum Report, a political newsletter. "And his gravitas and ability to interact with the Legislature is also eroded, so he has a substantial amount of repair work to do.”
And if he wants to run for re-election, as his campaign hinted at on Thursday, he may have to fight for the nomination. Attorney General Greg Abbott has been planning to run and is sitting on a $12 million campaign war chest.
But conservative commentator Will Lutz says Perry shouldn't be counted out just yet.
“People are always writing Rick Perry’s political obituary and somehow he manages to survive," Lutz said. "So I have learned that observers of Texas politics discount Rick Perry at their own peril."
This is the first time, though, he didn’t survive. And some voters in Texas have been turned off by his presidential campaign.
People like Julie McCarty of Grapevine. She voted for Perry in past gubernatorial elections but now sports a “Texans for Santorum” button. She says it was choice based on Perry’s policies as governor as much as his poor presidential campaign.
“I don’t think he did as much effort as he should have put into on the budget," McCarty said. "I think they’re saying we have a balanced budget. But if you study the numbers, they’ve kind of kicked the can down the road and taken money from Peter to pay Paul. And it’s not conservative.”
And after all this, the loss of support and money and prestige, Perry found himself at a Wendy’s in North Charleston on Wednesday night telling his staff that maybe it was time to call it quits.