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And Then the Candidate Said, "Oops"

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There was a game-changing moment for one candidate in last night's Republican debate on CNBC and it wasn't Herman Cain, who must be so relieved that someone else will be the brunt of political jokes in the next news cycle.

Texas Governor Rick Perry not only shot himself in the foot last night, but in one quick instant -- as the whole audience watched in disbelief -- the deflated balloon that was once his campaign for president seemed to hover over the auditorium before finally fizzling out on the stage.

Here's what happened and I saw it live. Perry, posturing among fellow conservatives how he would rein in our overgrown government, said he would end three government departments on his first day in office.

1) Education. 2) Commerce 3) Uhhhhh, uhhhhhh, uhhhhhh.

I guess the dog ate his homework. And, as my good friend Thea remarked, "Maybe he should reconsider Education."

It was such a stunning implosion that I quickly checked online for the transcript. And here it is, along with what I think is my favorite part, the greatest word ever uttered by a candidate for President. You'll have to read to the bottom of the transcript to see it.

From the transcript:

Perry: 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...Okay. Commerce, Education, and the --"

Ron Paul: EPA?

Perry: EPA, there you go.

Moderator: Seriously -- is EPA one you are talking about?

Perry: No, sir, no, sir. we are talking about the - agencies of government -- EPA needs to be rebuilt.

Moderator: you can't -- you can't name the third one?

Perry: The third agency of government I would -- I would do away with Education, the -- Commerce... Commerce and, let's see. I can't. The third one, I can't. Sorry. Oops.

I suspect this clip will be viral by morning, so it probably won't be necessary for me to note that the transcript doesn't begin to tackle how long the pauses were, how Governor Perry just could remember, even as Ron Paul tried to bail him out.

Moderator John Harwood was masterful in not letting Ron Paul put words in Perry's mouth, and getting him to answer whether he would, indeed, get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Tonight, I have to say, score one for Harwood who, along with fellow moderator Maria Bartiromo were booed by the audience earlier. Bartiromo got the brunt of the jeers when she asked Herman Cain a question of whether or not (moral) character is an important attribute for a president. Harwood heard from the hostile audience when he asked Mitt Romney if he would get rid of a CEO for character issues.

"Okay, let's switch back to the economy," Harwood said wisely, quirky recovering the good graces of his audience. After all, this was a debate hosted by the premiere financial news network.

As the clock now ticks down to the final campaign year, and pundits along with voters sort through the best ideas to rein in spending, help jumpstart the economy and put our friends and neighbors back to work in 2012, there will be one piece of paper left in the hat no one wants to touch: oops.

This column originally appeared in Shelley Ross' daily Xpress.