Though he continues to lag in national polls, Rick Perry is launching a massive comeback effort in Iowa, which will hold the nation's first caucuses on Jan. 3. He is in fourth place there now, behind Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, but he hopes to change that through a series of TV ads and intensive on-the-ground campaigning.

With this renewed effort, Perry may soon be back in the spotlight, and voters will want to learn more about his positions. Here is an overview.

ECONOMIC ISSUES

Entitlements:

Perry has a complicated relationship with entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. In his 2010 book Fed Up, he argued that Social Security was created at the expense of respect for the Constitution and limited government, called it a violent assault on American values and an illegal Ponzi scheme, and implied that it should be dismantled.

But more recently, he has said it is imperative to fix entitlement programs so that they will be around for future generations. Sensible reforms to the system must be made to ensure that future generations of retirees can rely upon Social Security's safety net just as their parents and grandparents did, his Web site says. Social Security is a vital safety net that has protected millions of retirees for several generations, but the safety net is beginning to fray.

Toward that end, he wants to raise the retirement age by an unspecified amount, allow younger workers to put their Social Security contributions into private accounts and let state employees opt out of the federal Social Security program in favor of a local program. He would also make it illegal for surplus money in the government's Social Security trust fund to be used for other purposes. As for Medicare and Medicaid, he would raise the eligibility age, reduce benefits for higher-income recipients and block-grant Medicaid funds to the states rather than keeping them under federal purview.

Health care:

Like most every other Republican presidential candidate, Perry has vowed to repeal Obamacare, which his Web site calls a misguided, unconstitutional and unsustainable government takeover of our health care that will undermine patient quality, increase red tape and send costs skyrocketing for taxpayers, patients and health care providers. However, he rarely discusses his own alternatives.

The alternatives he does present involve two things: tort reform and entitlement reform. He argues that stricter limits on malpractice lawsuits will bring down the cost of health care. As evidence, he points to Texas, which capped the amount of money plaintiffs can receive from malpractice lawsuits and which Perry says brought more doctors to the state and lowered medical costs (although in spite of that, Texas still has the highest uninsured rate in the country and higher Medicare costs than the national average).

As for entitlement reform, his main proposal is to block-grant Medicaid to the states, which he believes will improve the quality and efficiency of care. His other proposals for entitlement form are outlined in the entitlements section above.

Job creation:

Perry has proposed several measures to create jobs, the most direct of which is repealing various environmental regulations and allowing energy exploration in new areas. He would open up federal lands in Alaska and the Mountain West, allow more offshore oil drilling in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, and authorize the controversial Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to Texas and other pipelines as well. He says that this would create 1.2 million jobs while bringing the United States closer to energy independence, and that repealing certain Environmental Protection Agency regulations would save a further 2.4 million jobs.

He also wants to repeal other, non-environmental regulations that he sees as job killers, including those established by the 2010 health care law, the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory law and the Sarbanes-Oxley public companies regulatory law. The last major component of his job-creation plan is tax reform, outlined below.

Taxes:

The lynchpin of Perry's proposed tax plan is an optional 20 percent flat tax. Taxpayers would be allowed, at least at first, to stay under the current tax code if that was better for them, but people who currently pay more than 20 percent in income taxes would be able to switch over to the flat tax. He would also reduce the corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent. The idea is twofold: to cut taxes so that individuals and companies have more money to spend, and to simplify the tax code and thus reduce compliance costs.

He would also eliminate the estate tax and taxes on capital gains, dividends and Social Security benefits. He would cut most existing tax breaks, credits and loopholes, leaving only deductions for mortgage interest, charitable donations and state and local taxes. This, he says, would simplify the system and also make it fairer, because large corporations wouldn't be able to avoid taxes by exploiting loopholes.

He proposes a territorial tax system in which the United States would not tax the income multinational corporations earn abroad, as well as a reduced tax rate for corporations to repatriate existing profits, in order to encourage those companies to bring their income back to the U.S. and invest it here. Finally, he supports a balanced budget amendment and has vowed to balance the budget by 2020 without raising taxes.

FOREIGN POLICY

Afghanistan:

Perry's views on the war in Afghanistan are somewhere in between the withdraw-as-soon-as-possible mantra of Jon Huntsman and the stay-as-long-as-it-takes mantra of more hawkish Republican candidates.

At a GOP debate in September, Perry agreed with Huntsman that the United States should begin transferring responsibility to the Afghan government and security forces and withdraw most American troops as soon as possible, while maintaining a small presence there. I think the best way for us to be able to impact that country is to make a transition to where that country's military is going to be taking care of their people, he said. Bring our young men and women home, and continue to help them build the infrastructure that we need.

After the debate, however, his spokesman clarified that, while Perry wanted to bring U.S. troops home from Afghanistan as soon as possible, he did not support a timetable for doing so. He very much wants to bring the troops home -- we all do -- but he wasn't saying, 'I want to bring the troops home now,' the spokesman told The Cable. Governor Perry is not confident in the Obama policy, which seems to be driven largely by politics, and he's not confident in the 100,000 troops number. ... He understands that we have vital strategic interests in Afghanistan and that a precipitous withdrawal is not what he's recommending.

Iran:

Perry has taken a tough stance toward Iran, saying, like Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney, that he would be willing to go to war as a last option to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. To protect the vital U.S. interests at stake, a responsible commander in chief must be prepared in a worst-case scenario to use military force to destroy key Iranian nuclear sites, he said in a statement last month.

Short of war, Perry has proposed several tactics to block Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program, including sanctions and collaboration with Israel. For instance, he wants to revisit the option, rejected by President Obama, of sanctioning the Iranian Central Bank: a move Perry says would cripple Iran's economy.

However, he told CNN that he would have no qualms about authorizing the use of force, especially if Israel decided to attack Iran. We will support Israel in every way that we can, whether it's diplomatic, whether it's economic sanctions, whether it's overt or covert operations, up to and including military action, he said. When interviewer John King asked him whether he would support military action even if it started a war in the region, Perry responded simply, We cannot allow that madman [Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] to get his hands on a nuclear weapon, because we know what he would do with it.

Iraq:

Perry strongly opposed President Obama's decision to withdraw U.S. troops and end the Iraq War this month, calling it bad public policy and bad tactics from a commander's standpoint. He said he would not have set a timetable for withdrawal because the mission was not complete: America's commitment to the future of Iraq is important to U.S. national security interests and should not be influenced by politics, he said in a statement. Despite the great achievements of the U.S. military and the Iraqi people, there remain real threats to our shared interests, especially from Iran.

He added that, even if he had set a timetable, he would have kept it secret. You don't tell the enemy what your timetable is going to be, he said at a campaign stop in Iowa in October. This administration has signaled, telegraphed its intentions all too often, and that's just unacceptable. The last thing that you want to do is put those men and women's lives in peril, and I think that's what the president's done by making a political statement to his base that he's going to be out of Iraq on a date certain. He also accused Obama of making the decision to withdraw from Iraq based on political considerations rather than the advice of military commanders.

SOCIAL ISSUES

Abortion:

Perry opposes abortion except in cases of rape or incest, or if the mother's life is in danger. As governor of Texas, he has signed more anti-abortion legislation than any of his predecessors, including laws to ban late-term abortions, to require parental consent for minors and sonograms for every woman seeking an abortion, to establish a 24-hour waiting period for abortions and to defund Planned Parenthood. He also supported the Prenatal Protection Act, which defines fetuses as people under Texas law, and he has signed the Susan B. Anthony List pledge to appoint only anti-abortion judges and cabinet members as president.

One well-publicized deviation from his anti-abortion stance came in Perry's 2010 book Fed Up, in which he indicated that he considered abortion a state issue. More recently, though, even after a comment in which he said state's-rights advocates like himself couldn't support state's rights selectively, Perry assured his conservative supporters that he would push for a federal constitutional amendment to outlaw abortion. We can't afford to give up the good fight until the day Roe v. Wade is nothing but a shameful footnote in our nation's history books, he said in January.

Education:

Like two of his Republican competitors, Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul, Perry wants to eliminate the Department of Education altogether. The federal government would have no jurisdiction over education; all authority would be turned over to the states, which would receive federal block grants with no strings attached.

Perry's Web site enumerates the many problems he sees with the Department of Education. It is expensive, he says, with $9.3 billion a year in mandatory funding and $77 billion in discretionary funding, and it has only become more so thanks to the Bush-era No Child Left Behind Act, which created $147 million in administrative costs. Meanwhile, he argues, federal regulations like NCLB have tied the hands of administrators and teachers, led to lower test scores and graduation rates despite higher per-student spending, and created a fundamental intrusion into the right of the state and parents to control the education of their children.

Eliminating federal involvement in education and block-granting funding to the states would empower states to individualize their education systems, adapting them to meet each state's unique population and challenges, his Web site says. Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach to education, we will return authority over our education system to those individuals with a personal investment in their society and the education of their own children.

Immigration:

Of all his positions, Perry has probably gotten the most flak for his stance on immigration, mainly because he has supported in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants (and accused candidates who disagreed with him of not having a heart) and because he indicated at one point that he would support some sort of path to legality for illegal immigrants. In recent weeks, however, he has doubled down on his tough rhetoric against illegal immigration.

He does not support a fence along the entire U.S.-Mexico border because he thinks it is unrealistic, but he does support fencing along some parts of the border: those high-traffic areas where manpower alone is insufficient to do the job, his Web site says. Wherever possible, though, he wants to keep illegal immigrants out by increasing the number of border control agents. Until those agents were hired and trained, he would deploy thousands of National Guardsmen to secure the border.

Last month, he told Fox News that he would absolutely not create a path to legal citizenship for illegal immigrants who are already in the country. I don't care whether you've been here 25 days or 25 years, he said. There's not going to be amnesty involved in the program.

Same-sex marriage:

Perry has always been clear about his opposition to same-sex marriage, but in June, when New York legalized gay marriage, he said he respected it as a matter of state's rights: That's New York. That's their business, and that's fine with me, he said.

But shortly thereafter, he reversed course, saying he would support a federal constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman and arguing that some issues are too important to be left to the states. Obviously gay marriage is not fine with me, he told Tony Perkins of the conservative Family Research Council. My stance hasn't changed. I believe marriage is a union between one man and one woman.

Perry has signed marriage pledges from two groups, the National Organization for Marriage and The Family Leader in Iowa, and he has called specifically for New Hampshire to repeal its law that legalized same-sex marriage in 2010. He has also stated that he believes homosexuality is a choice: Even if an alcoholic is powerless over alcohol once it enters his body, he still makes a choice to drink, he wrote in his 2008 book On My Honor. And even if someone is attracted to a person of the same sex, he or she still makes a choice to engage in sexual activity with someone of the same gender.