And just like that, all of Rick Perry's past debate struggles were forgotten. But only because he had topped them all, and then some.

Well past the halfway point in Wednesday's Republican presidential debate, the Texas governor was touting his state's economic strength. He then segued into talking about his tax plan, and how he'd reduce government regulations as president.

And then the lights went out.

"It's three agencies of government when I get there that are gone: Commerce, Education and -- the, uh -- what's the third one there? Let's see ..." Perry said.

Take two.

"Commerce, Education, and -- uh. The, uh ..."

Mitt Romney tried to assist. "EPA?"

"EPA! There you go," Perry said, laughing (at least on the outside).

Moderator John Harwood pressed Perry: Was it really the EPA he was looking for?

"No, sir. No, sir."

Take three.

"I would do away with Education. The, uh, Commerce. And let's see. I can't. The third one, I can't," he said.

"Oops."

Oops.

It should have been a layup for Perry, who makes the point almost daily on the stump. Instead -- airball!

Perry, of course, has talked about skipping some of the debates. This is the ninth one in six months, the fourth that he has taken part in. There's another scheduled just this week, four planned in December, and two on consecutive days in the week before the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 10.

He did commit to join those at least for the rest of this month, while seeking to turn his struggles into an asset. He declared in his first television ad airing in Iowa that he was a "doer, not a talker."

As far as debate foibles go, the leader in the clubhouse for Perry had been a moment last month when he struggled to get through what seemed to be a prepared attack on Romney as a flip-flopper.

About 10 minutes later, Perry seemed to finally remember.

"And by the way, that was the Department of Energy I was reaching for," he said on an unrelated question.