Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry backtracked from comments that indicated he doubted President Barack Obama was a US citizen, complicating his efforts to right his troubled campaign and leading some Republicans to question whether he's done irreparable damage to his run by dabbling in the "birther" controversy.
Perry's comments in recent days about Obama's birthplace have overshadowed the Texas governor's unveiling of his economic plan, a move aimed at returning to the top contender tier in the Republican primary race. Perry shot to the top of the field after entering the race this summer, but quickly fell behind former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and businessman Herman Cain after weak debate performances.
Speculation about Obama's birthplace - a way to question whether his presidency is legitimate - has swirled among conservatives for years. As mogul Donald Trump fanned the issue earlier this year, Obama held a news conference to release his long-form birth certificate and try to put the issue to rest. Obama's father was born in Kenya, and some conservatives believe Obama was too, which would make him ineligible to be president.
Some Republicans privately worry that Perry's comments about Obama's birth certificate may have endeared him to the party's conservative wing but also may have started to marginalize Perry from the larger electorate. That would make defeating Obama difficult if Perry managed to win the Republican nomination.
His comments certainly irked several Republican luminaries, like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who in recent days have urged Republican presidential candidates to stop raising the issue. Others, like Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and campaign rival Jon Huntsman say it's bad for the party.
Karl Rove, George W. Bush's political strategist, said Perry may be hurting his campaign. "You associate yourself with a nutty view like that, and you damage yourself," Rove said on Fox News.
Perhaps for that reason, Perry seemed to try to put the issue to rest in an interview with two Florida news organizations, Bay News 9's "Political Connections" in Tampa and the St. Petersburg Times.
Asked whether he had any doubt that Obama was an American citizen, Perry said: "I have no doubt about it." But he also suggested that raising the issue is "fun" and that people should "lighten up a little bit."
While other Republican presidential candidates have kept their distance on the issue, Perry deeply waded into the topic in an interview published over the weekend in Parade magazine. He was quoted as saying that he has "no reason to believe" that Obama was not born in the United States, but also said he still wasn't sure if Obama's birth certificate is legit.
"I don't have a definitive answer," Perry said in that interview. And when it was suggested that Perry "and the world" had seen Obama's birth certificate, Perry said: "I don't know. Have I?"
Then, in an interview with CNBC and The New York Times, Perry said the birth certificate question was "a good issue to keep alive."
"It's fun to poke him a little bit," Perry said.
Obama, meanwhile, hit the road Wednesday, urging thousands of enthusiastic college students in Denver to make their voices heard. He told a boisterous crowd, "Young people, I need you guys involved."
Young people and first-time voters were key to Obama's victory in 2008 but the president has work to do to get them motivated this time around, with the economy sagging and job opportunities scarce.
Obama also used the West Coast trip to launch a new phase of his campaign to jump-start the economy. He announced executive actions to assist struggling homeowners and veterans, as well as graduates weighed down with student loans, and kept up his call for congressional Republicans to support pieces of his jobs bill.