But in an interview with The Associated Press early Thursday, Perry said the moment wouldn't force him from the race.
"Oh, shoot, no," Perry said. "This ain't a day for quitting nothing."
Still, the extended exchange will provide easy fodder for attack ads..
On Capitol Hill, Perry's brain freeze was widely regarded as a grave development for his already struggling campaign. In private, Republicans were wondering if they had just seen the beginning of the end for Perry.
Sen. James Inhofe, a Perry backer, phoned his colleagues to downplay the exchange and called Perry's supporters to try to stop an exodus.
"He's a human being, he just proved that last night," the Oklahoman said. "Right now, he's joking around about it and it seems to be favorably received from a lot of people I've heard from."
Yet Inhofe was still cringing.
"It was very embarrassing to Rick Perry and to others who certainly supported him, and I'm sure that many of his Republican opponents are rejoicing," said Inhofe.
Perry did even worse in an informal straw poll at a debate-watching party hosted by prominent New Hampshire conservative, Jennifer Horn, a recent Republican congressional candidate who previously backed former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty's now-abandoned bid.
Horn said that of about 40 Republicans at the party, only about four said they supported Perry before the debate began. That already-small number was cut in half after the debate.
"That's not a scientific sample. But that does show that people are influenced by what happens at these debates," Horn said. "That was highly unfortunate, especially for people in New Hampshire who know how strong he can be in person. It was difficult to watch."
Associated Press writers Kasie Hunt in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and Steve Peoples in Washington contributed to this report.
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