Michele Bachmann wanted him. So did Herman Cain. But as he seeks to spark a bit of excitement in his lagging presidential campaign, Texas Gov. Rick Perry nabbed the coveted endorsement Tuesday from celebrity Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, known for his combative stance against illegal immigration.
The endorsement should help Perry solidify his credentials as tough on immigration, despite attacks from the right in the 2012 GOP field for supporting in-state tuition for illegal immigrants.
Perry appeared on Tuesday morning at a roadside diner in Amherst, N.H. with Arpaio at his side, the first of several events planned for the day to showcase the endorsement. Arpaio will join Perry at town meetings in Manchester and Derry later Tuesday.
Speaking to a small coffee-sipping breakfast crowd, Arpaio said Perry was an “honest and ethical” man who has taken action to help secure Texas’ border with Mexico, by spending tate tax dollars on Texas Rangers and to send National Guard troops to the border.
“He’s been fighting this battle as the governor,” Arpaio. “He doesn’t just talk about it. He does something about it.”
At Joey’s Diner, Perry promised that he would quickly deport every illegal immigrant who’s been detained and secure the border within a year.
But he also said he believed it was appropriate to “have a conversation” with Congress about how to best handle illegal immigrants who have been in the country for many years and have developed long ties to their communities.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), who’s been rising in the polls, recently argued that some long-time illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay in the country.
Responding, Perry told the diner crowd that amnesty should not be under consideration but there should be further discussion about how to best deal with long-term illegal residents.
“How we deal with them is a conversation,” he said. “I don’t know that I have all the answers. I want to talk to the American people. I want to have a conversation with Congress about how we deal these individuals.”
Perry said the entire discussion is just an “intellectual conversation” until the border is secured.
Arpaio’s endorsement had been highly sought in a GOP field looking to prove to voters that it is the most credible on border security.
Perry’s stance on in-state tuition for some illegal immigrants turned off some conservative voters when he suggested those who oppose educating children brought to the country illegally lacked heart.
Responding to a question from a woman who told Perry that she was “troubled” that, as a New Hampshire resident, her college-aged grandchildren would pay out-of-state tuition, while some children of illegal immigrants could get cheaper in-state rates at Texas colleges, Perry said his own debate comment had been “absolutely inappropriate.”
He said he understood the woman’s concern but that the Texas legislature had overwhelmingly decided the issue.
“These are young people who came into the state through no fault of their own,” he said. “They are working toward U.S. citizenship and they pay full in-state tuition.”
After the event, Alice Bury, 69, a retired nurse from Amherst, said she’d hoped to hear Perry say he was rethinking his position.
“That’s what I was hoping to hear, and I didn’t,” she said.
Perry has struggled to gain traction in New Hampshire, particularly since his disastrous performance in the Rochester, Minn. debate earlier this month, as he struggled awkwardly to recall the third of three federal agencies he has advocated eliminating. The moment has led many to conclude he does not have the verbal dexterity to take on President Obama.
“I think he’s dead in new Hampshire. Absolutely dead,” said Fergus Cullen, a former chairman of the state Republican party who has not endorsed in the race.
A mid-November WMUR-UNH poll put Perry’s support in New Hampshire at 4 percent.
“People have decided on Perry. Even if they want to like him-they can’t get around the conclusion that the Republican nominee has to be able to debate Barack Obama, who’s an outstanding talker,” said Cullen.
Cullen added that he was advising Perry, he’s suggested that the Texas governor write-off New Hampshire and focus on Iowa and South Carolina, where he’s done a bit better with the more socially conservative voters in the state. Cullen penned an opinion piece Tuesday slamming Perry for campaigning with the divisive Arpaio, whom he dubbed a modern day Bull Connor.
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