Texas governor Rick Perry has said that evolution is a "theory" with "some gaps" — the latest in a string of comments indicating he will not temper his conservative views for his White House bid.
The day before, Perry — who jumped into the race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination less than a week ago — slammed scientists who he said had "manipulated data" to show that human activity caused global warming.
While his remarks at campaign stops in New Hampshire may win over his party's base, they may make him a poor candidate to take on Barack Obama, said John Brehm, a political science professor at the University of Chicago.
"The more he makes statements like this, the less palatable he'll seem to a mainstream American and the more palatable he'll seem to Republicans activists," Brehm told AFP.
Polls show Perry is nipping at the heels of frontrunner Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts who is regarded with some suspicion by the party's conservative base for his more moderate views and Mormon faith.
Perry has also surged pass Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann, a darling of the ultra-conservative Tea Party movement, winning 18.4 percent support in a RealClearPolitics average of recent polls compared to Romney's 20.2 percent and Bachmann's 9.6 percent.
Perry has thus far shown himself to be a smooth campaigner who does not back down when criticized.
On Monday, he said at a campaign stop in Iowa that he would view attempts by Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke to boost the U.S. economy before the November 2012 elections as "almost treasonous" and invoked the spectre of mob justice.
"If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I don't know what y'all would do to him in Iowa — but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas," Perry told supporters at a backyard get-together.
Those comments drew sharp rebukes from both Republicans and the White House, but Perry did not apologize.
He courted controversy again at a breakfast in Bedford, New Hampshire on Wednesday with his skepticism about climate change.
"I think there are a substantial amount of scientists who have manipulated data so they'll have dollars rolling in for their projects," Perry said.
"We're seeing almost weekly, or even daily, scientists that are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change."
In Portsmouth, New Hampshire, he responded to a protester who got her son to ask Perry how old the earth was by bending down and placing his hands on the boy's shoulders in a paternalistic gesture.
"Your mom asked about evolution. It's a theory that's out there. It's got some gaps in it," Perry said Thursday in an exchange captured by news crews.
"In Texas we teach both creationism and evolution because I figure you're smart enough to figure out which one is right."
Rival Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor who is among the most moderate Republican candidates and holds just 2.2 percent support in recent polls, shot back at Perry on Twitter on Thursday.
"To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy," he wrote.
Those words will likely hurt Huntsman among the Republican base.
More than half of Republicans — and four in 10 Americans — believe that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years, according to the latest Gallup poll.
Just 16 percent believe that God played no part in human development while 38 percent believe humans developed over millions of years with God's help.
Meanwhile, skepticism about global warming is growing among Americans. A recent Gallup poll found that just 50 percent of respondents think global warming is caused by human activities, down from 61 percent in 2003.
"These aren't necessarily views that the larger electorate is primarily motivated by," said Charles Franklin, who studies public opinion and politics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
"Ultimately, Governor Perry and Congresswoman Bachmann do not want to fight the general election on evolution and climate change. They want to fight it on jobs and the economy."