Texas Gov. Rick Perry said that a candidate's marital fidelity is "important" to the presidential race, an apparent knock at frontrunner Newt Gingrich, whose current wife was his mistress during his second marriage.
"I make a vow to my wife but I made a vow to God. And that's pretty heavy lifting in my book," Perry said in Saturday night's Republican debate in Iowa, sponsored by ABC News. "When I make a vow to God, then I would suggest to you that's even stronger than a handshake in Texas.
Moderator George Stephanopoulos then asked whether Perry thinks "a candidate who breaks his marital vows is more likely to break faith with voters?"
"I think the voters are wise enough to figure that one out," he said. "I've always kind of been of the opinion that if you cheat on your wife, you'll cheat on your business partner. So I think that issue of fidelity is important."
Perry, who is running ads in Iowa which highlight his faith, didn't directly mention Gingrich, but the question and answer obviously alluded to him.
"I mean, it's a characteristic of which people look at individuals, whether it's in their business lives or whether it's in their personal lives or whether it's picking someone to serve in public office for them," Perry added. "Individuals who have been in fidelity with their spouse, I think that sends a very powerful message. If you will cheat on your wife, if you will cheat on your spouse, then why wouldn't you cheat on your business partner? Or why wouldn't you cheat on anybody for that matter?"
The other candidates on the stage declined to mention Gingrich or make a big issue of infidelity.
"I think character issues do count. And I think all of your record, personal as well as political record, is there for the public to look at. I would not say it's a disqualifier, I wouldn't go that far. I think people make mistakes and you are held accountable to those mistakes, and the public will then listen to the circumstances and make their decision," Former Sen. Rick Santorum said.
"I think character is obviously very important. I don't think it should be necessary to have to talk about it. I think it should show through in the way we live. And I think it should show through in your marriage. And I happen to have been married for 54 years and a family person," said Rep. Ron Paul. "But you know what probably is every bit as important, if your marriage vows are important, what about our oath of office? That's what really gets to me. That's where you're really on the line as a public figure."
The thrice-married Gingrich acknowledged that voters have a right to ask questions about the matter, but said he should judged for who he is now, not for the "mistakes" he has made in the past.
"I think it's a real issue," he said. "I think people have to look at a person to whom they're going to loan the presidency. And they have the right to ask every single question. They have to have a feeling that this is a person that they can trust with the level of power we give to the presidency."
"And I think that's a very, very important issue. And I think people have to render judgment. In my case, I said up front openly, I've made mistakes at times. I've had to go to God for forgiveness. I've had to seek reconciliation," he added. "But I'm also a 68-year-old grandfather. And I think people have to measure who I am now and whether I'm a person they can trust. And all I can tell you is that... I am delighted at the way people have been willing to look at who I am, to look at what my record has been."