Christy Hoppe

Republican presidential candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry, center, heads to his vehicle after exiting the Papasito Restaurant in the Inwood section of the Manhattan borough of New York, Monday, Sept. 19, 2011.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Gov. Rick Perry’s campaign has faltered, but still has time to recover if he uses his charismatic personality to send out a powerful message, said three journalists at a panel hosted Thursday by The Texas Politics Project.

Three Perry campaign reporters, Jason Embry of the Austin American-Statesman, Christy Hoppe of The Dallas Morning News and Jay Root of The Texas Tribune, said that the future of the Perry campaign depends heavily on decisions being made now after two dull performances in debates.

“I think they have stopped the bleeding with the announcement of the fund raising figures,” Root said. “They were in free-fall for a while.”

He said Perry’s performance at the two most recent GOP debates contributed to the problem. The panelists said little debate prep time coupled with a busy speaking schedule contributed to Perry’s performance at the debates.

“He really blew it at the debate,” Root said. “I’m convinced he was tired.”

Perry’s upcoming debate performance may actually benefit from his previous faults in that arena, Embry said.

“Going into the debate, the expectations for Perry are low, and that’s not a bad place to be,” he said.

The panelists agreed that Perry’s success will hinge on building a clearly defined campaign goal, not unlike Obama’s “hope and change” slogan in 2008. Perry must be able to meld this message with his natural likability, the panelists said. Hoppe said Perry is a natural “retail politician,” or someone who is able to relate to audiences on a personal level.

“There needs to be some gravitas behind his message,” she said. “He’s one of the most natural politicians I’ve ever seen. He walks into a room and he owns it.”

The panelists said Perry’s relationship with the national media will also play a key role in shaping up his campaign. Hoppe said Perry’s inexperience with a presidential campaign and the national press greatly affect his campaign.

“In Texas, they were very much allowed to control the message,” Hoppe said. “You can’t do that this early in the campaign.”

She said restricting media access to a presidential nominee usually occurs when the race is down to three or fewer candidates, and that Perry’s advisors will have to adjust to the learning curve when contending with a 24-hour news cycle.

“Nothing prepares you for running a presidential campaign except running a presidential campaign,” Hoppe said.

Government graduate student Adam Myers said he agreed with the panelists that Perry could recover from his bobbles.

“The Perry camp has made some underlying missteps but there’s no reason he can’t bounce back,” Myers said.

After gaining 22 seats in the Texas House of Representatives, Republicans could cut up to $25 million from state social services, a panel of political journalists agreed on Thursday.

Reporters and editors from The Dallas Morning News, Texas Monthly, Texas Tribune and Quorum Report discussed the significance of this year’s midterm election at the third annual fall forum at the Center for Politics and Governance.

Christy Hoppe, the Austin bureau chief of The Dallas Morning News, said Texas already has a “lean and mean” government. She said the cuts will affect services Texans deem essential such as after-school programs, nursing homes, parks and even financial aid for college students.

“Once they start hitting the middle class in particular — and it will — then you’ll hear some screaming,” Hoppe said.

Republicans now hold 99 seats in the House — the most since Reconstruction. Texas Tribune reporter Elise Hu said on election night there was a strong message that Texans wanted to continue to keep spending and taxes low compared to other states.

Texas Monthly executive editor Paul Burka said that Texas has always been a conservative state, whether Republicans or Democrats are in power.

“It’s just a great big conservative streak that goes back into the 19th century when there was not just a lot of sympathy for the underdog,” Burka said. “If you couldn’t make it out in the frontier, you were a liability to your neighbors. That conservative self-reliant streak is just inbred in a lot of Texans.”

The panel also discussed Gov. Rick Perry’s win and their predictions about whether he will run for president. Burka said there was no question he’s going to run for president because he is governor of the largest red state and he is popular in Texas.

Hoppe said she does not believe he will run but agreed he is a polarizing public figure like Sarah Palin.

“If she’s Barbie, he’s Ken,” Hoppe said.