JUDY WOODRUFF: And to Republican presidential politics.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry moved today to rebound from his embarrassing lapse at last night's debate.
We're joined now by NewsHour political editor David Chalian to walk us through the highlights of the debate, beginning with that Perry flub.
So, David, let's get right it, that moment everybody is talking about.
GOV. RICK PERRY, R-Texas presidential candidate: And I will tell you, it is three agencies of government when I get there that are gone, Commerce, Education, and the -- what's the third one there? Let's see.
REP. RON PAUL, R-Texas presidential candidate: You need five.
GOV. RICK PERRY: Oh, five, OK.
REP. RON PAUL: Yes.
GOV. RICK PERRY: So Commerce, Education, and the...
GOV. RICK PERRY: EPA, there you go. No.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC: Seriously, is the EPA the one you were talking about?
GOV. RICK PERRY: No, sir. No, sir. We were talking about the agencies of government -- the EPA needs to be rebuilt. There's no doubt about that.
JOHN HARWOOD: But you can't -- but you can't name the third one?
GOV. RICK PERRY: The third agency of government, I would -- I would do away with the Education, the...
GOV. RICK PERRY: Commerce. And let's see. I can't. The third one, I can't. Sorry.
GOV. RICK PERRY: Oops.
JUDY WOODRUFF: It's almost painful to watch.
So how much damage has that done?
DAVID CHALIAN: Well, I think, if it were any other candidate, the damage might be limited, because everybody can understand having a total mental lapse like that. We have all been in positions like that.
The problem for Rick Perry is that a moment like that feeds into a larger narrative about his campaign, Judy. The debates have been a major trouble spot for him. From the moment he got into the race, he has looked unprepared and unable to debate his competitors on the stage.
This was by far the worst flub he had. And that just feeds into the notion that he is not ready for prime time. Republicans all around Washington and around the campaign trail today are saying, you know, it's hard for voters to envision him going up against Barack Obama in a fall debate, and that this, although it won't be a death blow to his campaign, is a serious problem for him that he knows he is working to get back from today.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You're right. We can all identify where we have all had lapses, but, still, a lot of people were watching.
So he's been spending all day today going around trying to take the sting out of this. How is that working?
DAVID CHALIAN: He blanketed the airwaves this morning. He went to five different network morning shows. He did some afternoon cable interviews, all to poke fun at himself. Tonight, he is going to give the top 10 list on David Letterman's program on the CBS show that he does in late night.
And so he taking an approach here where he is trying to poke fun, so that he can do as much of that as possible to quickly turn the corner. But this moment is not going away. These 53 seconds on YouTube will now help define the Rick Perry candidacy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, next, the candidate who was getting most of the attention going into the debate, Herman Cain, not welcome attention, from the accusations from these women who are talking about sexual harassment.
Let's look at the question that was posed to him last night and see how he handled it.
MARIA BARTIROMO, CNBC: Mr. Cain, the American people want jobs, but they also want leadership. They want character in a president. In recent days, we have learned that four different women have accused you of inappropriate behavior. Here, we're focusing on character and on judgment.
MARIA BARTIROMO: You've been a CEO.
HERMAN CAIN, (R) presidential candidate: Yes.
MARIA BARTIROMO: You know that shareholders are reluctant to hire a CEO where there are character issues. Why should the American people hire a president if they feel there are character issues?
HERMAN CAIN: The American people deserve better than someone being tried in the court of public opinion based on unfounded accusations. That's...
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
HERMAN CAIN: And I value my character and my integrity more than anything else.
And for every one person that comes forward with a false accusation, there are probably -- there are thousands who would say none of that sort of activity ever came from Herman Cain.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So where does all this stand right now?
DAVID CHALIAN: Well, that story still stands as a potential problem for his campaign. We will see if any further information comes out or if additional women make any claims.
Those questions aren't going away for him. But listen to the crowd in that answer, Judy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.
DAVID CHALIAN: You heard the boos to the question, the applause to his answer. This is Herman Cain drumming up support within the Republican base.
He's now starting to play the victim a little bit here, blaming the media. He is going after the women who are making accusations now, and really trying to destroy their credibility. His campaign announced today he's raised $9 million since Oct. 1, $2.5 million since the accusations were made public.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And you're right. You could hear the boos, you could hear the cheers to his answer.
So, finally, the other front-runner along with Cain right now, Mitt Romney, let's look at a question that was posed by CNBC's John Harwood. This is on what some would say Romney's greatest vulnerability.
JOHN HARWOOD: What can you say to Republicans to persuade them that the things you say in the campaign are rooted in something deeper than the fact that you are running for office?
MITT ROMNEY, (R) presidential candidate: John, I think people know me pretty well, particularly in this state, in the state of Massachusetts, New Hampshire that's close by, Utah, where I served in the Olympics. I think people understand that I'm a man of steadiness and constancy.
I don't think you are going to find somebody who has more of those attributes than I do. I have been married to the same woman for 25 -- oh, excuse me -- I will get in trouble -- for 42 years.
MITT ROMNEY: I have -- I have been in the same church my entire life. I worked at one company, Bain, for 25 years. And I left that to go off and help save the Olympic Games.
I think it is outrageous the Obama campaign continues to push this idea, when you have in the Obama administration the most political presidency we have seen in modern history.
They are actually deciding when to pull out of Afghanistan based on politics.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, he had a little mini-flub when he talked about how many years he had been married.
But, David, it's not just the Obama campaign that is going after him on inconsistency. It's the other Republicans, isn't it?
DAVID CHALIAN: Of course. In fact, Jon Huntsman's campaign put out a little YouTube clip this morning with a laugh track under this notion when Mitt Romney said that he is sort of the symbol of constancy.
They have all, Perry, Huntsman, many of his other competitors have been going after his notion. This is a caricature of him that was drawn in the 2008 presidential campaign. He has not been able to shed it. He has flip-flopped on certain issues, certainly the issue of abortion.
But he -- what I found so interesting about this answer, Judy, is that he is now going after this right into the headwind. He knows this is his key vulnerability. And if he is not able to turn around this image of him as somebody without a core, he's going to be in trouble. He needs to solve this now. And, in fact, it is also very much -- he's right -- the Obama campaign and the DNC that drive this message every day about Mitt Romney.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Any early sense whether this approach is working?
DAVID CHALIAN: No early sense it is working, but it is a new approach from Romney to handle it head on, to try to make the argument. He's chipping away at the frame that his competitors on the stage and the Obama campaign are building around him.
JUDY WOODRUFF: David Chalian, political editor, thanks very much.
DAVID CHALIAN: My pleasure. Thank you.