COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday declined to say whether he believes President Barack Obama was born in the United States.
At a news conference with state legislators just hours after he'd introduced a major economic plan, the GOP presidential candidate answered questions about the widely debunked claims that Obama wasn't actually American-born.
"I'll cut you off right there," Perry said when asked about Obama's birth certificate. "That is one of the biggest distractions that there is going. We need to be talking about jobs."
But Perry wouldn't answer a reporter's direct question about whether he believed the president was born in the United States. Obama's birth certificate shows he was born in Hawaii.
Speculation about Obama's birthplace — a way to question his legitimacy to be president — has swirled among conservatives for years. Business mogul Donald Trump brought it up repeatedly as he considered a bid for president. Earlier this year, Obama held a news conference to release his long-form birth certificate and try to put the issue to rest.
Perry also offered to release his own birth certificate Tuesday. "If somebody wants to see my birth certificate, I'd be happy to show it to them," Perry said. "But the fact is that this is a distraction, and Americans really don't care about that, if you want to know the truth of the matter."
The comments come on the heels of Perry's interview with CNBC and The New York Times, released Tuesday morning, in which he said the birth certificate question was "a good issue to keep alive."
"It's fun to poke him a little bit," Perry said of the president.
Perry's comments are keeping alive an issue that some Republican party elders say is bad for the party.
"Republican candidates should categorically reject the notion that President Obama was not born in the United States," former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush told The Washington Post in an email. "It is a complete distraction from the failed economic policies of the president."
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour also said it was a distraction.
"Look, if this election is about Barack Obama's policies and the results of those policies, Barack Obama's gonna lose," Barbour told reporters in Washington when he was asked about Perry's comments. "Any other issue that gets injected into the campaign is not good for the Republicans."
But to win the nomination, Perry has to appeal to the conservative base of the party — and talking about Obama's birth certificate could be a way to reach those voters.