ORLANDO, Fla. -- Is Rick Perry about to lose his momentum toward the Republican presidential nomination?
The Texas governor turned in a weak performance in a debate Thursday, raising questions about how ready he is for the rigors of a tough campaign and how much Republicans really know about the man.
At the same time, chief rival Mitt Romney scored with a sharp performance. And others shined in the eyes of Republican voters as well, including Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum.
Combined, the results heading out of the debate in Orlando suggest a party far from ready to coalesce behind Perry.
"Perry created some doubt about himself," said Susan MacManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida who attended the debate and a three-day gathering of more than 3,000 conservative activists.
"This is a world of people used to good speakers with clear views," she said. "They worry now about his ability to stand beside President (Barack) Obama in a debate."
At the gathering of conservatives Friday in the same convention center as the debate, it was all but impossible to find anyone who thought Perry did well Thursday night.
The criticisms included his style -- uniformly described as halting and unsure -- and his substance, particularly his defense of in-state college tuition breaks for children of illegal immigrants not available to citizens from other states.
"Perry looked uncomfortable. He got caught up on a couple of the questions. He was inconsistent," said Meg Shannon, a retired lawyer from Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., who attended the debate.
"I was leaning toward Mitt, but I wanted to hear the candidates," she said. "Mitt did very well."
Harold Armstrong, a pastor from St. Cloud, Fla., who attended the debate and a Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday, also came away unimpressed by Perry.
"I did not think Perry did well. He seemed a little tentative," Armstrong said.
He said Romney "came across looking presidential" and that his own favorite, Gingrich, scored by offering what he thought were the best answers. "He gives thoughtful replies, not canned responses," Armstrong said.
Jean Morris, a retired teacher from St. Cloud, walked away still leaning toward Perry. But she too acknowledged that he didn't do very well.
On the question of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, for example, she said he fumbled by failing to stress that it also requires those students promise to seek permanent resident status as a condition for the tuition break.