Perry's stumble was hard to watch, an awkward 54 seconds that he has since noted felt like hours.
"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."
The response in cyberspace was swift and brutal, many saying the slow-motion flub suggests Perry isn't, after all, ready for national politics.
The candidate made a beeline for the press room to own up and vow to press on: "I'm glad I had my boots on because I really stepped in it tonight."
Post-gaffe, Perry has labored to show he's in on the joke and climbing the presidential campaign learning curve.
"Write us to let us know what federal agency you would most like to forget," the Perry team invited supporters, directing them to a website addressed "forgetmenot."
The humor tactic is risky, though, because the jokes only change the subject from more weighty underlying concerns.
"The basic question is about competence. The humor doesn't address it," Diermeier said. "It's still out there."
As the media spotlight turned to Perry, Cain pressed on toward Iowa. The accusations against Cain by four women — two of whom received financial settlements from the National Restaurant Association where those two worked and Cain was the president — so far are a question of his word against theirs. They are wavering on whether to have a news conference, according to the lawyer for Karen Kraushaar, one of them.
So Cain could have little to lose by sticking to his denials and moving on.
His combative new lawyer, Lin Wood, could pave the way to stability for a candidate who has struggled with consistency as he responded to the breaking story of harassment allegations. Wood, based in Atlanta, has represented the family of Jon Benet Ramsey and the man wrongly accused of being the Atlanta Olympic park bomber. And he's warning any other women who might come forward with allegations against Cain that they would be aggressively scrutinized.
At the same time, the Cain camp seems to be making efforts to shore up support among women, including rolling out the endorsement of a prominent Republican female state lawmaker in his home state of Georgia, Renee Unterman.
The CBS News poll said Cain's support among Republican women has dropped since late October, from 28 percent then to 15 percent now.
He's getting more aggressive getting his campaign message out. Cain is airing his first television ad in Iowa and preparing to sign a lease on a new campaign office in Atlanta that will serve as a hub for volunteers.
Facing voters for the first time since the allegations emerged nearly two weeks ago, Cain met with friendly tea party groups in Michigan.
"How you beat Obama? Beat him with a Cain!" he told one supporter at a crowded diner in Ypsilanti, near Detroit.
The crowd cheered.
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