Rick Perry entered the field as a strong front-runner, but his debate performances left his audience cold. Rice University Political Science Chair Mark Jones says some of that isn't really Perry's fault.
"I think a lot of the initial support for Perry was somewhat illusory in that it was sort of a desire among many conservatives in the Republican party to find some alternative to Mitt Romney. And when Perry didn't live up to the unrealistic expectations, his support dropped. Now it dropped even further due to some very poor performance in debates, as well a lot of attacks on him which have got him off message."
Jones says Perry spent too much time on the defensive during previous debates and needs to regain control of presenting his strengths.
But Jones adds debates have always been Perry's weak spot and in the past his campaign has tried to keep him away from debates in Texas politics.
Example of video clips replayed and analyzed by The Texas Tribune
"One negative for him is the prominent role which debates now play in the Republican nomination process. And so that, of all the areas, that's his weakest area, but he's been forced to participate in it. He also is not used to being attacked so sharply and not being able to respond within the campaign — that is having to respond on his feet — which is not what he's actually good at."
A relatively small proportion of voters watch the debates, but Jones says the echo chamber effect in which sound bites and video clips are replayed and analyzed reaches millions more voters.
He says Perry doesn't need to hit a home run in New Hampshire, but he can't afford to strike out.