BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. — Rick Perry says he "stepped in it" during Wednesday night's Republican presidential debate, but insisted it won't force him out of the presidential race.
"Oh, shoot, no," Perry told The Associated Press Thursday morning, a day after he stood on stage unable to remember the third federal department he would cut. He was asked if his campaign, struggling to regain traction, could survive. "This ain't a day for quitting nothing."
With a blitz of early morning interviews and TV appearances, the Texas governor was looking to stem any fallout from a major gaffe the night before during a GOP presidential debate.
"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 said at the debate. "Oops."
Perry's glaring mistake was by far the worst in a series of missteps he's made over the course of six presidential debates he's attended. The pattern plays into stereotypes that the Texas governor isn't smart enough or qualified enough to be president — particularly as Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate to beat, has stood on the same stages and performed almost flawlessly. The episode also raised questions about whether Perry can take on not just those Republican rivals but also President Barack Obama.
In the early morning hours after the debate, Perry tried to cast the mistake as humanizing, showing voters that he isn't the "slickest" politician but instead makes mistakes like everyone else. And in an interview with the AP, he insisted that he is more qualified than Romney is to be president.
"More so," he said when asked if was as qualified as the former Massachusetts governor. "Almost 11 years of chief executive experience of an entity a lot bigger than anything that he ever ran, and created more jobs, taking our four years and overlapping them as governors. The success that Texas was going through between 2002 and 2006 far overshadowed Massachusetts. So absolutely."
"If Americans are looking for the slickest politician, the smoothest debater, I readily admit, I'm probably not their guy," Perry said.
But while Perry's earlier flubs brought him down from the top of the polls and forced a shift in campaign strategy, this one has prompted questions about whether he can even continue in the race. Donors were privately nervous — or even panicking, though Perry's advisers said Thursday that they already have the cash they need to run through to South Carolina.
And Perry himself is defiant. "The chattering class and the political pundits will try to guide this campaign," Perry said. "I'm going to be out talking to the people in South Carolina and Florida and New Hampshire and Iowa, those early primary states, about our vision for the country."
Still, the extended debate exchange is destined for endless television replay and will provide easy fodder for attack ads.
In the debate, Perry said he would eliminate three federal agencies but struggled to name them.
"Commerce, Education and the — what's the third one there? Let's see," the Texas governor said.
Perry's rivals tried to bail him out, suggesting the Environmental Protection Agency.
"EPA, there you go," Perry said, seemingly taking their word for it.
But that wasn't it. And when pressed, he drew another blank.
"Seriously?" asked moderator John Harwood, one of the CNBC debate hosts. "You can't name the third one?"
"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 said. "Oops."
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