Republican presidential contender Michele Bachmann, whose gaffes have made her a favorite punching bag for Jay Leno and other late-night comedians, paid Leno a visit Friday.
In her first appearance on "The Tonight Show," Bachmann tried to show her lighter side -- even making a joke about Christian anti-gay therapy, but Leno challenged her on gay rights, the HPV vaccine, her opposition to raising the federal debt ceiling and other conservative positions.
The comedian's gentle persistence could not budge Bachmann from her talking points.
He pressed the Minnesota congresswoman about why she repeated a story about a mother who claimed a vaccination against the human papillomavirus caused "mental retardation" in her daughter.
"Something like 30 million people have had this [shot]," Leno said, "and there haven't been any cases of this [retardation], or at least recorded cases."
"Well, I wasn't speaking as a doctor. I wasn't speaking as a scientist," Bachmann said, repeating the defense she has used all week. "I was just relating what this woman said."
Leno asked her about a mental health clinic run by Bachmann's husband, which has come under fire for offering "reparative therapy" aimed at gay clients.
"It's a Christian counseling clinic we have," Bachmann said.
"Well, that whole 'pray the gay away' thing," Leno said. "I don't get that."
"Well, see, I think when I heard that," Bachmann said, "I really thought it was, like, kind of a midlife crisis line -- 'Pray away the gray.' That's what I thought it was."
"But it sounds like if two gay people want to get married, that's their business; that doesn't concern us," Leno said. "I mean, why is that even an issue?"
"Well, because the family is foundational," Bachmann said, "and marriage between a man and a woman has been what the law has been for years and years."
Bachmann ended her appearance by teasing Leno about choosing him for the No. 2 spot on her presidential ticket. "You don't want a cut in pay, so what can I say?" she joked.
"Well, we'd probably have an argument over that gay thing," he replied.
Earlier in the day at a rally in Costa Mesa, Bachmann engaged in more routine political rhetoric, sniping at Texas Gov. Rick Perry as she struggled to regain her footing in the GOP presidential contest. She reiterated her accusation, first voiced Monday during the CNN/Tea Party debate in Florida, that Perry had abused his power and inappropriately rewarded a political donor when he ordered sixth-grade girls to get the HPV vaccine.
"It's wrong to abuse executive authority with unilateral action, and of course the governor of Texas admitted as much that he made a mistake," Bachmann told reporters at the Orange County Fairgrounds. The vaccine, Gardasil, is made by Merck, a company that has donated almost $30,000 to Perry and employed as its lobbyist his former chief of staff.
Though Bachmann had scored debate points Monday when she slammed Perry, it was afterward when she told the story about the crying mother who said the vaccine had caused her daughter to suffer "mental retardation."
Physicians and federal health officials dismissed the story.
On Friday, as he toured a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Atlantic, Iowa, Perry predicted that Bachmann would admit she had erred by repeating the unsubstantiated anecdote.
"I think it was an ill choice of response when she had no scientific backing, to say the least," Perry told reporters. After leaving the "Tonight Show" taping in Burbank, Bachmann was scheduled to end her two-day swing through California with a speech before the California GOP convention.