The Nine Most Memorable Debate Moments

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Rick Perry's "Oops" Moment

Rick Perry was already fading some in the polls on November 9, 2011 when the large GOP primary field assembled for a debate in Jerry Ford’s hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Texas governor was banking on a strong performance. Instead, he experienced an inopportune brain lock, Perry listed two of the three federal departments he wanted to eliminate but then…forgot the third.

As the audience and even the other candidates started to squirm, Perry just couldn’t come up with it. Mitt Romney tried to be helpful, suggesting the Environmental Protection Agency, but this wasn’t right. “You can’t name the third one?” asked moderator John Harwood.

“I can’t,” Perry replied. "Sorry. Oops."

Across town, pollster Frank Luntz was dial-testing a focus group of GOP voters. At first, they chuckled as Perry struggled to recall the elusive third agency. After 10 seconds, the laughter in the room turned uncomfortable. A woman in the group gasped audibly, “Oh my God.” Luntz looked at his data and recalled himself thinking: Sometimes a door just shuts in politics, and it just shut for Rick Perry.

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