Gov. Rick Perry kicked off his "second look" effort with a controversial ad lamenting the fact that gays serve openly in the military. The ad was focused on gaining support from Iowa’s many evangelical Christians. But in the GOP debate on Saturday, Perry largely stayed away from moral judgments — until he was asked if a candidate’s fidelity is a legitimate campaign issue. Perry's response?
Audio: Ben Philpott's story for KUT News
“If you will cheat on your wife, if you will cheat on your spouse, then why wouldn’t you cheat on your business partner, or why wouldn’t you cheat on anybody for that matter?" Perry asked.
But there was no mention of gay soldiers or the Obama administration’s promotion of gay rights in U.S. foreign policy. Both are things he’s hammered in campaign ads and statements.
Even when speaking at an evangelical church on Sunday, Perry spent his time trying to connect with voters by sharing his personal history of a modest upbringing in a small town. And at a short stop at a packed coffeehouse in Ames, Perry stuck to a message of cutting federal regulations.
“I’ll give you a good example," Perry said. "A John Deere tractor with these new emissions standards that are being put in by the EPA, it’s gonna cost $20,000 more for every one of those John Deere tractors. That’s money that farmers are now going to have to pay."
While Perry’s campaign hopes controversial ads will energize the state’s evangelical base, Perry the candidate appears to be picking and choosing when to talk about those issues in public. Maybe because he knew there were protesters waiting in the crowd.
When he finished talking to the crowd and started to leave the room, chants of "Go back to Texas!" and "Why do you hate gays? Why can't gays compete in the military?" followed him out the door.
Perry didn’t dash out of the room, but he didn’t stick around to take questions from the audience either.