Perry and seven others faced off this evening at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California.
In his first national debate, Perry made no major mistakes, carried himself fairly well and was very aggressive. He attacked his closest opponent, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's record repeatedly. But all night, he was forced to take more punches than he threw.
The welcome wagon did not pull up to this stage as governor Perry walked out. In Perry's first face-to-face meeting with his six challengers, they welcomed him to the campaign with shot after shot - so much so Perry cried uncle.
"I kinda feel like the pinata at the party," he said at the debate.
The candidates erased any doubt about whether they were afraid to take Perry on almost immediately. Romney continued his critique of Perry's 26 years in elected office.
"Look if I spent my life in government, I wouldn't be running for president right now," Romney said.
"As a matter of fact, we created more jobs in the last three months in Texas than he created in four years in Massachusetts," Perry shot back.
"Texas has a right to work state, a Republican legislature, a Republican Supreme Court. Texas has a lot of oil and gas in the ground. Those are wonderful things, but Governor Perry doesn't believe he created those things. If he tried to say that, why it'd be like Al Gore saying he invented the Internet," Romney said about Perry.
All that and the debate wasn't 10 minutes old. Perry got hit by opponents on his HPV vaccine mandate.
"It's not good social policy," Congressman Ron Paul said.
He got pointed questions from the moderators on Texas' low health insurance rates and education cuts, questions he didn't fully answer. But he was forced to explain his Ponzi scheme description of Social Security.
"It is a Ponzi scheme to tell our kids that are 25 or 30 years old today you're paying into a program that's going to be there. Anybody that's for the status quo with Social Security today is involved with a monstrous lie to our kids," Perry said.
Look for those attacks on his Social Security positions to come again and again. Perry's been criticized not only for his position but also the way he explains it -- maybe too much cowboy, some of his opponents say. On Wednesday night, he answered those critics saying maybe it's time to have some provocative language in this country. Those are his words, which certainly sets up a clear distinction between him and Romney.