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Journalists are united in declaring last night's debate the last gasp of Rick Perry's presidential bid, as he spent nearly a minute trying to recall the last government program he planned to abolish.

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

While journalists and analysts are united in their prediction of Perry's demise, not everyone agrees on the state of the Cain campaign. Politico sees Cain's appearance as a relative victory in light of the past week; during the debate, the allegations against him of sexual harassment were mentioned only once, to loud disapproval from the audience.

Alan Schroeder, professor of journalism and contributor at the Huffington Post, described the debate as "uber-friendly territory" for Cain, who was "surrounded by a force field of support that for two hours insulated him from the sexual harassment scandal that has scorched his campaign."

But others saw Cain's performance as amateur. While he rigorously defended his moral conduct, Greg Sargent, a blogger for the Washington Post, said that Perry looked relatively well-versed in comparison to Cain, who did not know that China has nuclear weapons. Jennifer Rubin blogged at the Washington Post that Cain had very little material to present beyond his 9-9-9 plan, and was seriously outpaced by both Romney and Gingrich.

Cain also provided the evening's second-most-quoted line after Perry's "oops": he referred to former House Speaker and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi as "Princess Nancy." For some, the moment underscored Cain's cluelessness about the depth of political incorrectness he is now steeped in, with Cassidy opining: "Good idea, Herman: offend some more women." Rubin declared that his comment emphasized "precisely the sort of disrespectful image he has been fighting for more than a week. For the first time, he came across as a jerk not a charmer."

The numbers

The day after the debate, The Wall Street Journal has Romney and Cain as the front-runners, polling at 23.3 percent and 25.2 percent respectively. Gingrich is ahead of Perry, 12.2 to 10.2 percent. While he received almost zero coverage in the debate's aftermath, Ron Paul is polling at 8.3 percent. Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Jon Hunstman make up the bottom tier, with 3.3 percent, 1.7 percent, and 1 percent each.

Moving into the last weeks before primary voting begins, the focus of the press remains squarely on Romney, Perry and Cain, with Gingrich occasionally popping up in coverage.

The next debate will take place in South Carolina on Saturday night.

email: lmarostica@desnews.com