NEW YORK -- Maybe Rick Perry should have worn a different jacket.
The Republican presidential hopeful's new campaign ad, "Strong," has become a viral video sensation since being released last week – but not necessarily for the reasons the campaign might hope for.
By Monday afternoon, the ad had registered nearly 650,000 "dislikes" on YouTube, compared to just over 20,000 likes. And it has sparked nearly 700 reply videos, including some mercilessly funny parodies that feature people wearing the same kind of jacket Perry wears, and lots of chatter about how Perry looks like a gay cowboy from the movie "Brokeback Mountain."
In the ad, Perry suggests that President Barack Obama is waging a "war on religion" after signing legislation allowing gays to serve in the military. It's drawn some 6 million views on YouTube, more than any other campaign video this year, company officials said.
As he struggles for traction three weeks before the GOP nominating contest opens in Iowa, Perry is using the ad to appeal to the kind of Christian conservatives who typically dominate the state's precinct caucuses. In it, he makes some eyebrow-raising claims.
Perry is seen walking up a grassy hillside, dressed in a brown barn jacket and blue shirt.
"I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm Christian," Perry says. "But you don't need to be in the pew every Sunday to know that there's something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can't openly celebrate Christmas or pray in schools."
He continues, "As president, I'll end Obama's war on religion and I'll fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage."
In fact, Obama has had nothing to do with banning school prayer – the Supreme Court ruled in 1962 that prayer in public school was an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment. Perry's suggestion that gays serving in the military represent an assault on religious faith has drawn scorn from Democrats and gay rights activists, many of whom are expressing themselves in video.
First, there's the jacket. Many videos have noted that it's the same type worn by actor Heath Ledger in the 2005 movie "Brokeback Mountain," which centers on a long love affair between two cowboys.
Many of the video parodies feature actors wearing the shirt and jacket combo, including video satirist Andy Cobb.
"I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm an atheist," Cobb says, "but you know there's something wrong with this country when politicians think it's OK to hate on gays and nonbelievers in ads."
Another video shows a brown-jacketed rabbi, Jason Miller.
"I'm not ashamed to admit I'm a Jew," Miller says. "There's something wrong in our country when gays can serve openly in the military but still can't marry each other in most U.S. states."
Some videos include a message from Jesus.
"I'm ashamed to admit that you are (a Christian)," a cartoon Jesus says to Perry in one.
In another, an actor playing Jesus says, "Rick Perry using my name to promote his agenda against gays in the military is just pathetic."
Stephen Farnsworth, an associate professor of communications at George Mason University, said the ad may well help Perry in Iowa, where polls are starting to show him inch up a bit. But Farnsworth said the ad's message – and the parodies it has spawned – won't help in the long run, particularly when it comes to connecting with moderate and swing voters.
"The worst thing to be in American politics is a joke," Farnsworth said.
The Perry campaign did not respond to a request for comment.