Joe Arpaio Boosts Rick Perry on Immigration

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Accused of being soft on illegals, the Texas governor gets some help from the hardline sheriff who carries tremendous sway with Republicans

Joe Arpaio - Joshua Lott Reuters - banner.jpg

Texas Gov. Rick Perry took a major step this morning toward inoculating his campaign against the soft-on-illegal-immigration rap when he scooped up the endorsement of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the Arizona lawman who has become the most recognizable symbol of transcendent voter frustration with runaway illegal immigration.

"The federal government has failed on border crime and border enforcement, and no candidate for president has done more to secure the border than Governor Rick Perry. I have been watching Governor Perry and Texas closely and know his border surge operations with state, local and federal law enforcement officials have helped shut down the illegal trafficking of weapons, drugs and people," Arpaio said in a statement today distributed by the Perry campaign.

Campaigning in New Hampshire this morning, Perry also used the occasion to pledge that as president, he will detain and deport apprehended illegal immigrants through expedited hearings, a tougher stance than he had before the issue became an ankle chain on his campaign.

It would be difficult to underestimate Arpaio's punch on the issue among Republican voters. A parade of GOP nomination seekers, including Perry, Rep. Michele Bachmann, businessman Herman Cain and sometimes front-runner Mitt Romney, have called on Arpaio in recent weeks seeking his blessing. They of course know that, despite a reputation for harsh and constitutionally dubious tactics of detainees, Arpaio's endorsement confers the recipient with a spine of steel the flashpoint social issue of the 2012 primary contest.

And no one in the race needs a spine transplant more desperately than Perry right now. In spite of his enviable pile of cash, he has fallen to the back of the GOP pack in recent polls as a result of a string of weak debate performances and his support as governor of a law making it possible for children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates. He made things worse for himself when he said during a September debate that people who don't want to foster the education of illegal immigrants "don't have a heart."

Perry's claim to be the only candidate in the contest with first-hand experience battling illegal border crossings may now finally begin to resonate with GOP voters. As for Arpaio, he might be thinking about a nice promotion to FBI director in a Perry administration.

See also: Why Would Anyone Want Sheriff Joe Arpaio's Endorsement?

Image credit: Joshua Lott/Reuters

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Jackie Koszczuk is the editor of The Almanac of American Politics.

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