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How the Perry camp is hoping to turn lemons into lemonade

Paul Sancya / AP

Texas Gov. Rick Perry points his head as he speaks during a debate in Auburn Hills, Mich., Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011.

From NBC's Carrie Dann:
Pundits called it a "a freeze." "A nightmare." A "brutal stumble." "Brain fart."

But Rick Perry may have put the best label on it with one word during Wednesday night's debate in Michigan: "Oops."

Perry suffered a nearly-minute-long journey into the verbal wildness as he grasped to remember the name of one of the three federal agencies he would pledge to eliminate, grasping at words so awkwardly that one of his rivals helpfully suggested "EPA?" in the effort to kickstart the stalled mental engine of the Texas governor.

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The campaign went into cleanup mode minutes after the debate ended, bringing candidate Perry himself to face reporters and flatly own up to "stepping in it." Back in Austin, staff scrambled to book the governor in a series of round robin interviews on the morning news shows, bracing for questions about whether or not the onetime front runner would even bother soldiering on in the presidential race. 

And by 2:40 a.m., about five hours after the stumble, the campaign had sent out an email appeal to supporters riffing on the moment and chalking the error up to Washington's over-bloating. 

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"Rick Perry forgot the third agency he wants to eliminate. Just goes to show there are too damn many federal agencies," read the email appeal from Perry's team, subject lined "So, which agency would you most like to forget?" 

That strategy showed in his morning interviews, as Perry directed each anchor to his new web site where fans can vote for their most hated of 10 agencies to eliminate (starting, of course, with the Department of Energy, the one Perry forgot). 

As Perry was subjected to five rapid-fire network rehashes of the disastrous 53 seconds, he chuckled and shook his head. 

"I will tell you, I don't mind saying clearly that I stepped in it last night," he said on NBC's TODAY. "I think I'm like most Americans, and there's so many agencies of government out there we'd like to forget that the Department of Energy was one of those."

Rick Perry tells TODAY that his debate stumble will not end his presidential bid.

Advisers hope that the lemons-to-lemonade approach could take some of the sting out of the evening, but the "brain freeze" moment crystallized a long-building narrative about Perry's halting performance in many of his six previous debates. 

Still, Perry -- who has never lost an election -- appears to have no intention of giving up on a run that's seen his polling average drop by 20 points in 2 months.  Noting that today is the 236th birthday of the Marine Corps, Perry told the AP this morning that "this ain't a day for quitting nothing." 

And, mobbed by reporters last night who peppered him with questions like "are you embarrassed?" Perry pledged that he will appear on stage for the next debate this weekend in Spartanburg. 

"I'll be in South Carolina on Saturday," he said. "And hopefully I'll remember the Energy Department.