After the debate: Mitt Romney up, Rick Perry down and out

Published: Thursday, Nov. 10 2011 11:00 a.m. MST

Republican presidential candidates former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, left, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, businessman Herman Cain, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, pose before a Republican presidential debate at Oakland University in Auburn Hills, Mich., Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011.

Paul Sancya, Associated Press

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A day after the latest Republican debate, analysts say Mitt Romney is again the man to beat.

And Rick Perry is, what's that word? ... Done.

The Republican presidential campaign Wednesday converged at the University of Oakland in Rochester, Mich. Today, the press is weighing in on who came on strong, who struggled and who spent 55 seconds forgetting a piece of his own policy.

Journalists, pundits and analysts concluded Romney is now the front-runner, with the New York Times declaring his nomination "inevitable."

Who Won

Romney delivered a calm and logical debate performance, focusing on the economy and trying to emphasize his own consistency. Politico reports that GOP strategist Rich Galen says the former Massachusetts governor's stiffest competition for the presidency is now Obama, essentially crowning him the Republican candidate.

Many sources are also touting Newt Gingrich as a strong debate performer who may have gained some traction last night. The Washington Post's The Fix blog says Gingrich has a consistent strategy that's earned him points with the public: "He bashes the media at every turn, says the format of the debate is ridiculous and throws out red meat…that gets the crowd on his side early on. With Cain's problems and Perry's brain freeze, Gingrich is likely to be the biggest beneficiary coming out of tonight."

Who Lost

They were the crickets heard around the world. Journalists are united in declaring last night's debate the last gasp of Perry's presidential bid, as he spent nearly a minute trying to recall the last government program he planned to abolish: "It is three government agencies when I get there that are gone," Slate quoted Perry as saying. "Commerce, Education, and the — what's the third one there? Let's see."

Ron Paul and Romney both offered suggestions to jog Perry's mind, and CNBC co-host John Harwood tried to clarify Perry's thoughts by asking, "You can't name the third one?" Perry concluded that he could not, ending simply with the word, "Oops."

John Cassidy of the New Yorker calls Harwood's intervention "the fatal dose." Gail Collins, Op-Ed columnist at the New York Times, likened Perry's groping for the answer to looking at another student's paper in the third grade, "except for the part where everybody in class is running for president."

Already dubbed "brain freeze" by Politico and "The Stumble" by the Huffington Post, Perry's gaffe has been by far the most covered aspect of last night's proceedings. Perry himself did his best to recover, first appearing to reporters directly after the debate.

Admitting that "he stepped in it," Slate reports that Perry tried to make the best of the situation with a new spin: "I may have forgotten (the Department of) Energy, but I haven't forgotten my conservative principles."

The New York Times reports that Perry also appeared on morning talk shows today, vowing to stay in the race despite his poor debate appearances. "It's not about who's the slickest debater or whether anyone has made a mistake or not. We're all going to make mistakes," he said on the "Today" show.

Still, the other candidates after the debate seemed to think this mistake was particularly ghastly. Romney senior advisor Eric Fehrnstrom told the press, "There is nothing I could say that could darken the moment that Rick Perry had up on stage," reports Politico. And according to the New York Times, rival candidate Michele Bachmann said "We all feel very badly for (Perry)."

The media was less sympathetic, with Slate offering the Perry campaign's cause of death: "Self-inflicted injury, brought on by amnesia."

Jury's Out

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