ABC News reports: “Although Rick Perry said at a debate on Thursday that he was ‘lobbied’ by a 31-year-old woman suffering from cervical cancer to require young girls to receive the HPV vaccine, he did not meet the cancer patient until after he had already issued his executive order mandating the vaccine. It was a rhetorical high point for Perry at the debate in Florida, when he put a personal face on the story and pointed to his friendship with a woman who later died of cervical cancer.” If this is accurate — and we haven’t heard the Texas governor’s response — this is really bad.

Recall in 2000 when Al Gore was caught in a string of exaggerations and misstatements. The issue soon devolved into one of credibility. It also calls to mind another fib, this one by President Obama, who falsely claimed his mother lacked health insurance. It’s not good to make misstatements, and it is even worse to be caught doing it while attempting to emotionally manipulate the voters.

For Perry, it takes what was an emotional moment and makes it a liability. For someone running against the Washington pols, a fake emotional moment can be dangerous.

I’ll await the Perry team’s response, but it better be good.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who was a non-factor in the debate, went on Sean Hannity’s Fox show and hit this item hard. She then proceeded — goodness knows why she didn’t do it in the debate — to go after Perry on a host of cronyism issues that Right Turn, the Post reporters and Texas media have reported on. She said the Merck-HPV connection was just one of “many, many instances” of favoritism. Her problem is that she’s didn’t bring her “A” game to the debate. Rick Santorum did, and he’s the one who may benefit from Perry’s fumbles.

Santorum spokesman Hogan Gidley e-mailed me after the debate, “While the two media-anointed front runners were busy saying, ‘Trust me: I’ve flip-flopped fewer times than the other guy,’ Senator Santorum was busy emerging as the one full-spectrum, consistent conservative who can lead this country back to greatness. He answers the questions he’s asked with a genuine nature and knowledge on the issues that the other candidates simply don’t have.”

And there you have it: Can Perry hold his ground, or will he be challenged by a newly invigorated Santorum? Stay tuned. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney is breathing a sigh of relief.