Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad on Friday said Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry's debate gaffe this week was one of those unfortunate iconic moments, just like former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean's memorable scream was in 2004.
The veteran Republican governor said Perry's inability to remember the name of the third Cabinet department he would eliminate was not a fatal blow, but that the episode served to punctuate doubts about the Texas governor.
"It's not helpful especially in light of the fact that he had had several previous debates where he had not performed well," Branstad told The Associated Press in an interview. "It is kind of comparable to, it was the governor of Vermont, Howard Dean's scream here at caucus night in Iowa."
During a GOP presidential debate Wednesday night in Michigan, Perry couldn't name the third department.
"Commerce, Education and the _ what's the third one there? Let's see," he said, before checking his notes and eventually admitting he couldn't remember.
Later in the debate, Perry said Energy was the third department.
But the minute-long video of Perry's stumble spread quickly as he made the rounds of network and cable television news programs to put a lighthearted spin on the situation and dismiss questions about his ability to stay in the race.
Dean, once the poll leader for Iowa's 2004 Democratic presidential caucuses, famously rallied supporters on caucus night after finishing a disappointing third. He shouted the names of state contests ahead, capping it with a red-faced yell.
The circumstances were different but the episodes reinforced doubts about each candidate.
In Dean's case, the concerns were about his demeanor. In Perry's case, his sometimes awkward and wandering debate answers have raised questions about his ability to perform under pressure.
Like Dean, Perry's moment also comes as the he is trying to regain his footing after slipping sharply in the polls.
Branstad said he was unlikely to endorse any of the seven candidates who are campaigning to win the state's Jan. 3 caucuses. He previously had held out the possibility of doing so.
Branstad said strong performances in Iowa were essential for Perry and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, both of whom have slumped in the polls since August.
He also said former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum "could be the real sleeper in this thing." Santorum last week reached his goal of visiting each of Iowa's 99 counties, a feat made famous by Iowa GOP icons Branstad and U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley. Santorum is the only candidate to invest that much time on retail politics in the state.
Branstad also said it was possible that Mitt Romney could win the caucuses, despite the former Massachusetts governor's less aggressive campaign in Iowa this year than four years ago. Romney recently said he would like to win in Iowa. Doing so would help him build momentum heading into the leadoff primary a week later in New Hampshire, where he is heavily favored.