ABOARD THE USS YORKTOWN -- Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday linked his own long marriage to his faith in God and said that the American people will "work their way through" issues of marital infidelity in the presidential race.
"I didn't make an oath just to my wife," he said when asked about GOP frontrunner Newt Gingrich's three marriages. "I made an oath to God when I married my wife. I think it's an important issue. But the American people will figure out these issues and work their way through them."
Perry, who is polling a distant third in the state, said he would allow his rivals to duke out their differences on their own.
"I'll let those two get in the ring and go at it," he said of Gingrich and Mitt Romney. "I'll be out campaigning and shaking hands and asking people to support me."
The Texas governor, who yesterday released a controversial ad that condemned President Obama's "war on religion," doubled down on his message of "values" and touted his faith.
"I'm not afraid to talk about my Christian faith. I'm not afraid to talk about the values that this country was based upon," he said.
"I don't understand why our children can't pray in school or why our children can't celebrate Christmas in school," he added to applause. "I don't get that."
The press conference in a hangar in the belly of the enormous U.S.S. Yorktown came after Perry -- one of just two in the GOP field who served in the military -- touted his support from veterans in military-population-heavy Eastern South Carolina.
Perry said evangelical voters in South Carolina haven't coalesced around one candidate, in part, because he has spent less time there than in Iowa and New Hampshire.
"We haven't spent a lot of time in South Carolina," Perry said. "We've been focused on those two early states. You're going to see me a lot. And they're going to find out a whole lot about me, not only about my faith, but also about the economic policies that we've put in place in Texas."
Of the increasingly bitter fight between the two men currently leading him in rhe state, Perry said he believes "competition makes you stronger."
"Bring it on," he added.