Rick Perry doubles down on 'birtherism.' Can it help him gain ground?

After stepping into the birther issue over the weekend, Rick Perry tells CNBC on Tuesday, 'It's a good issue to keep alive.' Significant numbers of Americans still aren't sure where President Obama was born.

Brian C. Frank/Reuters
Texas Governor Rick Perry speaks at the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition's Presidential Forum at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, Iowa last Saturday.

Rick Perry apparently thinks it was a good idea to dip into the whole “birther” issue.

Speaking about the theory that President Obama may not have been born in the United States and would thus be ineligible to serve as president, the Texas governor and presidential candidate told CNBC Tuesday: “It’s a good issue to keep alive.”

Then he added: “I'm really not worried about the president's birth certificate. It's fun to – to poke [at] him a little bit and say, ‘Hey, how about – let's see your grades and your birth certificate.’ ”

The issue came back to life this past weekend, when Governor Perry said in a Parade Magazine interview that he didn’t have a “definitive answer” on where Mr. Obama was born.

In late April, Obama released the long-form version of his birth certificate, showing that he was born in Honolulu. That convinced some previous doubters that the president was legit, but significant numbers of Americans still aren’t completely sure. A Gallup poll taken in May showed that 47 percent – fewer than half – think Obama was “definitely born in the US,” up from 38 percent in mid-April.

So maybe Perry thinks it’s good politics to keep the issue alive and have a little “fun” with Obama. As the Texas governor attempts to jump-start his faltering campaign, he is looking in particular at the early nominating states – Iowa and South Carolina – where he has to do well or it’s game over. In both, conservative Republicans dominate the caucus- and primary-going communities, constituencies that are more likely to question Obama’s legitimacy than not.

A poll by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling taken in February showed that a majority of likely GOP primary-goers are “birthers.” According to the survey, 51 percent believe Obama was born in another country. Another 21 percent weren’t sure where he was born. Only 28 percent said he was a natural-born US citizen.

Among the nonbirthers, the top preference for the Republican presidential nominee was former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Among the birthers, the two top choices were former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Since both opted not to run, that may be a slot Perry hopes to fill.

But if Perry wins the nomination, birtherism would hardly be a winning strategy against Obama. According to Huffington Post polling editor Mark Blumenthal, writing last April, “swing voters give the ‘birther’ theories little credence.”

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