Rick Perry's rise to the top of Republican presidential candidate field field has taken a blow recently, especially after Thursday's Fox News/Google Republican debate in Orlando, leading to gains for Mitt Romney.

Even before the debate, Perry was beginning to slide. According to a Rasmussen poll put out Wednesday, the Texas governor was the preferred choice of 28 percent of primary voters, compared to 24 percent for Romney. Before Perry's first debate, he held an 11-point advantage over Romney (29 percent to 18 percent).

Mike Huckabee, a 2008 presidential candidate and the former governor of Arkansas, said Thursday's debate performance showed that Perry is not prepared for the pressure of the presidential stage yet.

Rick Perry has got a struggle ahead of him, Huckabee said on Fox News Sunday, according to Politico.

Specifically, Huckabee pointed out that Perry's response to a question about his support for giving in-state college tuition to children of illegal immigrants. For those who opposed the policy, he said, I don't think you have a heart.

Rick Perry could have answered that in a way that could have defused it, Huckabee said. We're not talking about people who just showed up to go to college; we're talking about people we educated in our schools.

Many political analysts were harsh on Rick Perry's performance on Thursday night.

But no front-runner in a presidential field has ever, we imagine, had as weak a showing as Rick Perry, William Kristol of The Weekly Standard wrote. It was close to a disqualifying two hours for him.

In a poll conducted by the National Review on their website, 83 percent of people said that Perry was either atrocious (39 percent) or adequate (44 percent) in the debate, while only 16 percent rated Perry as either good (12 percent) or excellent (4 percent).

Perry gained nearly instant frontrunner status once he began his campaign, which has led other candidates to target him in the debate.  Specifically, he has been targeted for calling Social Security a Ponzi scheme in his book and for trying to implement required HPV vaccination of young teens.

The fact that Perry instantly had the spotlight placed on him has given the candidate a steep learning curve, political observers note.  

Most presidential candidates have months to hone their skills, writes Dan Balz of The Washington Post. Perry has been on Broadway from the moment he announced. His past writings, prepared before he thought seriously about running, have left him vulnerable to criticism. His chance to make a positive impression has come almost entirely through high-profile debates, and that has not served him well.

The Rasmussen Poll says a head to head matchup between President Obama and Perry would have the incumbent winning by seven points.