Rick Perry declared in the middle of Wednesday’s CNBC debate that he wanted to plant a “big ole flag” that declares the United States “open for business.”

Republican presidential candidate and Texas Gov. Rick Perry gestures as he answers a question at the CNBC Republican presidential debate in Rochester, Michigan, on Wednesday night. (REUTERS/Mark Blinch)

Perry suffered easily the ugliest moment of an already troublesome set of debate performances Wednesday when he struggled mightily to name the third agency of the federal government that he wanted to eliminate.

Given his previous struggles, the question must then follow: is this the end?

At least one top Perry fundraiser said it was indeed.

“Perry campaign is over. Time for him to go home and refocus on being governor of Texas,” the fundraiser said. “Really unfortunate. His policies are a solid roadmap for the economy. But, clearly he can’t articulate them in a coherent way.”

Tweeted GOP strategist Tony Fratto: “Perry can end his campaign right now.”

To the Perry campaign’s credit, it was quick to acknowledge the flub and how embarrassing it was.

“I stepped in it, man,” Perry said after the debate. “Yeah, it was embarrassing — of course it was.”

Added Perry spokesman Ray Sullivan: “We had a stumble of style but not substance. … It’s a good thing he’s wearing his boots because he stepped in it.”

But there are a few reasons this moment could be the beginning of the end.

As the quote from our fundraiser suggests, this could have a significant chilling effect on the people who are keeping Perry in the conversation with the frontrunners — the money men (and women). Without money, Perry’s campaign doesn’t have the potential it had before, and these supporters have to be reevaluating things right about now.

Perry’s flub was of his own doing and wasn’t in response to a “gotcha” question, so he’s got nobody to blame but himself. And that means there is no Herman Cain-esque rallying effect here; only pain.

Secondly, when it comes to presidential campaign, style is substance. Put another way, people simply need to have faith that a candidate has the smarts and the convictions to be president, and the way they present themselves matters immensely.

Perry’s flub just completed the picture of a guy who isn’t ready for primetime, can’t enunciate his platform and folds under pressure. Those aren’t qualities people want in a president.

You quite simply don't see moments like that from candidates that are presidential material. A gaffe is a gaffe, but this was a GAFFE.

Perry’s opponents declined to kick a dead horse — pardon the pun — after the debate

“There’s nothing I could say that could darken the night that Rick Perry had,” said Eric Fehrnstrom, a top strategist for Mitt Romney.

“We all felt very bad for him,” said Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.).

The question for Perry is when that level of pity becomes too much for him to press on.

Until a few months ago, Perry was seen as a successful longtime governor of the nation’s second-biggest state.

By the end of Wednesday, he was verging on becoming a laughing stock. And that’s not something anyone wants to go through — particularly a guy who was looking like a world-beater after his 2010 primary win over a sitting U.S. senator, Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Don’t expect him to exit the race tomorrow, but the race is going to start being more painful for him. And he’s shown no signs that he’s ready for the challenge ahead.

Cain fights back with robocalls, Google: Cain’s campaign is starting to fight back against sexual harassment allegations with paid media.

Cain’s campaign has purchased Google search terms for people looking for information on his accuser, linking the search to a website it launched called CainTruth.com. And the Las Vegas Sun picks up on robocalls Cain’s campaign is apparently running in Nevada touting his decades-long marriage to his wife.

“It was a woman going on about what a good upstanding man he is and how he’s married and then, ‘By the way, did I mention he’s been with her for 40 years,’” a voter told the Sun.

This is a level of organization that we haven’t seen previously from the Cain campaign. But it has been 12 days.

Meanwhile, Cain goes up with his first TV ads (not on the same topic) in Iowa.

Crossroads attacks Elizabeth Warren in Occupy Wall Street ad: The conservative super PAC Crossroads GPS is going up with a $1.8 million ad buy in targeting Democratic Senate candidates and incumbents — the most notable being an attack on Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren tying her to the more unpleasant aspects of the Occupy Wall Street protests.

“Elizabeth Warren sides with extreme-left protests,” the ad says. “At Occupy Wall Street, protesters attack police, do drugs, and trash public parks. They support radical redistribution of wealth and violence.”

The ad goes on to quote Warren saying that she created the “intellectual foundation” for the movement.

The other ads will air in Missouri, Montana, Nebraska and Virginia. They are all different and focus on the economy and government stimulus and over-regulation

More conservative third-party ads: The conservative American Action Network is going up with an ad buy of its own — $100,000 online and in the districts of Reps. Larry Kissell (D-N.C.) and Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa) — focused on the balanced budget amendment that is due for a House vote next week.

“This week, Congress can pass a balanced budget amendment; call Leonard Boswell, tell him to stand up and do the right thing now,” the ad in Iowa says.

The North Carolina and generic online ads are essentiality the same.

Boswell and Kissell are top GOP targets in their newly drawn districts. Boswell faces Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa) in a swing district, and Kissell’s district became much more Republican thanks to a GOP-drafted redistricting plan.


Cain apologizes for his “Princess Nancy” comment about House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) at Wednesday’s debate.

An AFL-CIO-sponsored poll shows Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) and other Issue 2 supporters could pay a political price.

Greene County State’s Attorney Matt Goetten (D) will run against Rep. Tim Johnson (R-Ill.) in a new swing district crafted by Illinois Democrats.


CNBC presidential debate: Winners and losers” — Chris Cillizza, Washington Post

Activists say Obama aide Cecilia Munoz has ‘turned her back’ on fellow Hispanics” — Peter Wallsten, Washington Post

Debt-reduction talks at an impasse despite ‘breakthrough’” — Lori Montgomery, Washington Post

Why did Rick Perry get into the race, really?” — Marc Ambinder, The Atlantic

In Ohio collective-bargaining vote, Democrats see some hope for 2012” — Anne E. Kornblut and Peter Wallsten, Washington Post