Perry could only manage to say, "Oops." Making fun of himself afterward, he told reporters: "I stepped in it."
It was a cringe-inducing moment replayed more than a million times on YouTube. The memory lapse not only solidified Perry's reputation for weak debate performances, it gave the impression that he couldn't articulate his own policies.
Perry, 61, was relatively unknown outside of Texas until he succeeded George W. Bush as governor after Bush was elected president in 2000. A former Democrat, Perry had already spent about 15 years in state government when he became governor. He went on to win election to the office three times, the most recent was in 2010.
Part of Perry's appeal came from his humble beginnings as a native of tiny Paint Creek, Texas. He graduated from Texas A&M University and was a pilot in the Air Force before winning election in 1984 to the Texas House of Representatives. He switched to the GOP in 1989, and served as the state's agriculture commissioner before his election as lieutenant governor in 1998.
Perry picked Aug. 13 for his official announcement speech, the same day as the Iowa Straw Poll. While rival Michele Bachmann won that poll, the Texas governor cast a shadow over her victory by challenging her as conservatives' best hope for winning the nomination.
But his support of a Texas policy to allow children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates soon proved to be problematic with conservatives nationwide. So, too, did his 2007 order that would have required schoolgirls in Texas to be vaccinated against human papillomavirus. Although state lawmakers overturned the order, Perry defended the vaccination as necessary to combatting the sexually transmitted virus that can cause cervical cancer.
Perry also risked backlash from elderly voters after calling Social Security a fraud and a "Ponzi scheme." He said the popular federal retirement program for seniors was financially unsustainable and pledged to retool it if elected.
His performance on the campaign trail also led to concerns about how his rhetoric would sound to a national audience.
During a campaign stop in Iowa in August, he suggested that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke would be practically committing treason if he were to print more money and said, "I don't know what y'all would do to him in Iowa, but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas."
Associated Press writers Beth Fouhy, David Espo and Jim Davenport in South Carolina and Will Weissert in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report.
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