CEDAR FALLS, Iowa – Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Friday stood by his wife's assertion that the Republican presidential candidate has come under unfair attack because of his Christian faith, even as he admits he's not doing as well in the first six weeks of the campaign as he'd hoped.
While he stopped short of saying who is behind the bouts, he suggested they could come from the right and the left.
"I would suggest to you that is a long and distinguished list of folks," Perry said in an Associated Press interview before an appearance in Iowa. "I don't think there's a lot of utility of sitting here listing folks that are our opponents, whether they are on the Republican side of the ledger or the Democratic side"
Perry is an evangelical Christian. A week before he entered the race for the Republican presidential nomination he hosted a national day of prayer that drew 30,000 to a Houston arena.
His wife, Anita, became emotional while campaigning in South Carolina on Thursday, a day before Perry returned to campaign in Iowa, saying her husband had been "brutalized by our opponents and by our own party," and "So much of that is, I think they look at him because of his faith."
She spoke of her husband's persecution by opponents and referred to his need to see the "burning bush" to convince him to run, a Biblical reference to a sign from God, terms that would resonate with conservative Christians in South Carolina and Iowa — early contest states where evangelical Christians have strong political influence.
But some of his opponents and influential pastors in early voting states have criticized aspects of his 10-year record as governor that they say are at odds with evangelical Christian standards, such as requiring school-age girls to be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted virus that can cause cervical cancer.
And last week, a Dallas pastor who supports Perry, Robert Jeffress, referred to the Mormon faith, observed by fellow GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, as a cult.
After soaring to the top of national polls when he entered the race in mid-August, Perry has seen his national support decline following a series of poor debate reviews in September.
Perry acknowledged Friday he had not met his own expectations.
"Do you want to perform perfectly every day? Yeah. That's my goal. I probably haven't reached that goal 100 percent," he said in the AP interview. "I don't particularly look at the last two months as anything other than just going forward and starting to introduce myself to Americans that don't know who we are."
Perry was on a marathon day of campaigning Friday that included laying out a plan to spark job growth in the energy sector and making several stops in South Carolina.
Perry estimated his plan to harness more domestic petroleum by scaling back federal regulations would yield 1.2 million jobs and require little action by Congress.
Perry, who has called for changing Social Security, declined to offer details about plans for the entitlement program, promising to outline proposals in the coming weeks in a second phase of his economic agenda.
He ended the day in Iowa, the leadoff presidential caucus state, where he was headlining a private fundraiser for state Rep. Patrick Grassley, grandson Sen. Charles Grassley. Perry had no public events in Iowa Friday.
Perry's campaign had said that the candidate's sometimes halting debate performance was due to the instantly rigorous pace of a presidential campaign, complicated by his relatively late entry and its simultaneous personal appearance and fundraising demands.
Perry said debates, with often more than six candidates on the stage simultaneously, were not ideal formats for him to discuss his record in Texas.
"I think Americans will get past the three-ring circus that goes on with the debates," he said. "Americans are not looking for the slickest debater or the smoothest politician."
Perry, who underwent back surgery in late June, said Friday he had been sleeping better, in part because he had started running for exercise again.
"Oh yeah," Perry said. "Running is a great cathartic activity.