Iowa gubernatorial candidate Terry Branstad is increasing his anti-gay marriage, anti-immigrant rhetoric in an attempt to woo social conservatives who say he's been weak-kneed on such issues.

In a Tuesday radio interview on WHO-AM, Branstad said he believes the children of immigrants in the United States illegally should not be allowed to attend public schools.

“If they're not here legally, they are not entitled to benefits and they should not receive them,” he said.

An effort last month to shore up his conservative credentials backfired when he dispatched running mate Kim Reynolds to meet with social conservative voters.

Reynolds was supposed to turn up the heat on the issue of repealing gay marriage in the state, but failed to impress social conservatives who had backed Sioux City businessman Bob Vander Plaats' bid for the Republican nomination. Vander Plaats' platform was built on a single issue: Reverse at any cost the 2009 Iowa Supreme Court ruling that legalized gay marriage.

“In some of the counties that the governor (Branstad) didn't carry I'm gonna try to get out there and meet with them and just talk to them and listen to them, give them an opportunity to get to know me,” Reynolds told The Iowa Independent.

She then stepped into something ugly when she added: “We could take a look at civil unions. There are other options maybe that I would be in favor of looking at.”

The campaign quickly applied their spin to the soundbite, saying that state Senator Reynolds was “merely advocating that if individuals want to do this in their private lives, that is fine.”

Conservative leaders, however, weren't biting, putting the campaign's efforts to reach out to social conservatives opposed to gay marriage in peril. Those voters are angry at Democratic leaders for blocking Republican attempts to begin the multi-year process of repealing gay marriage.

On both issues, however, Branstad has stumbled.

During the campaign to win the Republican nomination, Branstad reversed course on the immigration issue, saying at first that he supports denying in-state college tuition to children of illegal immigrants, even if the children are U.S. citizens. He backtracked on that statement three days later.

He also said Tuesday that he agrees with Arizona's law that demands immediate deportation for anyone who cannot show proof that they are in the country legally. Something he said he disagreed with during the primary contest.

Despite his wobbly stances on social issues, Branstad has broad mainstream appeal. A June 16 Rasmussen poll shows the former governor clobbering Governor Chet Culver, who supports marriage equality, with a staggering 26 point lead.