Gov. Rick Perry

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s presidential campaign suffered yet another setback Tuesday when Bob Vander Plaats, a leading social conservative in Iowa who serves as president of the anti-gay Family Leader organization, endorsed Rick Santorum in the state’s Jan. 3 Republican Caucus.

Perry’s campaign had actively courted the Family Leader’s endorsement, and he signed the group’s controversial “marriage pledge” last month. Politico notes that Perry is in a three-way battle for Iowa’s coveted evangelical vote against Santorum and Michele Bachmann. Vander Plaats’ endorsement could help determine who moves on to New Hampshire and who does not.

Adding salt to Perry’s wounds, Don Wildmon, founder of the American Family Association, endorsed Newt Gingrich on Tuesday. If you’ll remember, the AFA, which is considered an anti-gay hate group, teamed with Perry for The Response, the August prayer rally in Houston that served as a kickoff for his presidential campaign — and at which Wildmon embraced Perry on stage. Right Wing Watch reports on Wildmon’s endorsement of Gingrich:

Wildmon today appeared on Focal Point with Bryan Fischer where he explained that while he was initially “ecstatic” about Rick Perry’s candidacy, he decided that because of the Texas governor’s disastrous debate appearances his candidacy “cannot recover.” Wildmon said that electability matters because “we are facing the most critical election this nation has ever seen, the stake in this election is Western civilization.”

Despite Tuesday’s setbacks, The Dallas Morning News’ Wayne Slater reports that Perry, who’s still polling in the lower tier of candidates, plans to remain in the race beyond Iowa regardless of where he finishes. But Slater also notes the Perry’s infamous anti-gay TV ad, “Strong,” appears to be backfiring among some Republican voters:

At a historic hotel in Maquoketa, 61-year-old Len Ditch sat in the front row, wearing a Perry for President sticker. He said he liked Perry’s commercials in Iowa — especially one recommending that Congress be made part-time. He liked another one advocating prayer in schools but questioned why Perry had included a reference to gays serving openly in the military.

“I don’t believe in the gay world. But I believe live and let live,” he said.

Meanwhile, KWQC Channel 6 in Davenport, Iowa, has posted a transcript from an interview with Perry in which the station asked Perry about “Strong” and whether he thinks being gay is a choice. Read the excerpt below:

Q: We need to talk about the commercial that’s getting a lot of play here in Iowa — the “Strong” commercial in which you said quote “I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a Christian but you don’t need to be in a pew every Sunday to know there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military.”

Perry: And openly pray and celebrate Christmas in our schools was the rest of that.

Q: What’s wrong with gays serving openly in the military?

Perry: I think the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy was an appropriate policy to have in place. My issue is not about an individual’s sexuality. The issue is we have two wars going on and this president, pressured by his left base and the promise he made during the campaign that he was going to push through so that gays would openly serve in the military, and I think, I’m a former veteran pilot in the United States Air Force and for 11 years been commander and chief of the forces in Texas, our national guard, Texas state military. I think I understand this issue very well and my command and line individuals think that was very bad policy to put in place particularly while we are in a time of combat, using our military as a political tool, bad public policy.

Q: Is being gay a choice or are you born that way?

Perry: I’m not a scientist, but I would suggest to you a little bit of both. I know that my faith teaches that there are a host of sins. As a matter of fact I sit before you as a sinner but by the grace of God I’ve been forgiven of those sins. I would suggest to you I operate on the practice of loving the sinner but hating the sin.