Rick Perry admits back pain hindered early debate performances

Rick Perry's uneven early debate performances, which ranged from stiff to lethargic, have long fueled rumors that the candidate was struggling with pain stemming from back surgery he underwent last summer.

In an interview with the Des Moines Register's Kathie Obramovich, the Texas governor finally admitted back pain was a factor in his dismal debate appearances, but insisted that he's finally getting back to normal:

Q: You struggled in the early debates. Do you regret not getting out to Iowa earlier to get your feet wet?

A: Looking back and trying to "would have, could have, should have" is an interesting question to ask, but the facts are the facts. I didn't even make the decision to run until very late June, and I had surgery on my back in very late July.

Q: How is your back?

A: My back is great. I'm back running again for the last six weeks. I think part of the reason you have seen a somewhat different candidate on the debates is my health, and (I'm) both physically and mentally just back in the game. You have fusion on your back, and it takes you a while to get back on your game.

Q: So were you not feeling good in those early debates?

A: I would suggest to you that I was pretty fatigued. No excuses. It was error. It's what it is. Look, if anybody is looking for the perfect candidate, I'm not it.

Perry underwent experimental surgery on his back in July that involved the fusion of his own adult stem cells into his spine. The procedure is so new it still hasn't gotten the official approval of the Food and Drug Administration.

Perry staffers have long denied their boss was suffering from any side effects from what the Republican presidential hopeful once downplayed as his "little procedure." But Perry was frequently spotted wearing orthopedic sneakers in place of his cowboy boots on the trail and often seemed fatigued.

On Saturday, Perry delivered one of his sharpest debate performances yet at an Iowa forum sponsored by ABC News and Yahoo. But the turnaround could be too late for Perry's candidacy, as the governor is now stuck in single digits in many of the early voting states.

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