It looks like Perry will be hearing a lot more about his Gardasil issue after last night’s debate and his poor response. As reported by Huffington Post,

Perry responded ably to criticisms of his record on Social Security, which had beset him over the last week. But as he dealt with the controversy over calling the program a “Ponzi scheme,” three more issues opened up, damaging him in the eyes of conservatives.

Most significantly, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) went hard after Perry for his 2007 attempt to mandate vaccinations of sixth-grade girls against the human papillomavirus, the most common sexually transmitted disease and a lead cause of cervical cancer. This issue had been raised in last week’s debate. But unlike then, Bachmann pointed out that Perry’s former chief of staff in the governor’s office had been part of the lobbying effort for drug manufacturer Merck, which stood to benefit by administering the vaccine.

That led to a low point for Perry, when he defended himself this way: “The company was Merck, and it was a $5,000 contribution that I had received from them. I raise about $30 million, and if you’re saying that I can be bought for $5,000, I’m offended.”

Bachmann shot back: “Well I’m offended for all the little girls and the parents that didn’t have a choice.”

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) then piled on with righteous indignation, accusing Perry of overseeing “big government run amok.”

. . . To make matters worse for Perry, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin added her voice in support of Bachmann’s to criticize Perry after the debate was over. “That’s crony capitalism,” she said of Perry’s mandate in an appearance on Fox News. “That’s part of the problem that we have in this country is that people are afraid, even in our own party, to call one another out on that. True reform and fighting the corruption and fighting the crony capitalism is a tough thing to do within your own party.”

The reporter believes this episode is “lasting damage” for Perry:

But the HPV issue may be the one that harms Perry the most. Unlike the Social Security issue, where Perry’s iconoclastic comments had endeared him to many portions of the conservative base, the HPV topic will hurt him with the grassroots, especially as it becomes a bigger focus of the campaign in the coming days. What is worse for Perry: the issue alienates both small government conservatives and Republicans who are more conscious of social issues.

As I stated in August, I thought Bachmann would bludgeon hammer Perry with this issue; she may have waited too long to salvage her candidacy. Her performance last night has earned her a new round of television interviews. In a broadcast this morning

Bachmann says in a broadcast interview she will keep hammering away at the Texas governor over an executive order he signed making vaccinations against potentially cancer-causing infections mandatory for young girls. The state legislature overturned Perry’s decision.

I doubt this is fatal but it continues to bolster Mitt Romney’s chances as Tea Partiers and Evangelicals become less enthralled and enthusiastic about Perry’s candidacy.

In my opinion, the issue which harmed him the most was his defense of providing in-state tuition to illegal immigrants.  Perry was not booed for his position on Gardasil; he was when defending his support for “incentives” for illegal immigration.  I have always thought the immigration baggage was more toxic, more visceral, and ideological than Gardasil.  (See here and here)

Winner: Romney.

UPDATE: Closed-border website V-Dare reports that Perry may have stepped on the “immigration land-mine”:

A friend just called to report that Bill Bennett’s Morning in America radio show had a torrent of calls denouncing Rick Perry’s performance on immigration in last night’s debate. Callers said they had not realized how liberal Perry is on the subject, and were particularly irritated that he alone would not support building an effective border fence. Only two callers defended Perry.

One man apparently warned that the MSM was trying “trying to foist Perry on us, just like they did McCain”. He pointed to favorable camera treatment of Perry, while the other speakers generally got portrayed in split screens.

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