Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann met with Joe Arpaio, the Arizona lawman who has called himself “America’s Toughest Sheriff” at his office Wednesday afternoon, as one of her rivals, Mitt Romney, was campaigning nearby at a retirement community.
According to the Bachmann campaign, the last-minute event was opened to press at the request of Arpaio’s staff. Arpaio, who has developed a national reputation for his tough treatment of illegal immigrants, has become a hot commodity on this year’s campaign trail. Arpaio’s aide Chad Willems said the sheriff received several calls from Bachmann prior to Wednesday's meeting, and that he’s also been called by Rick Perry and Mitt Romney.
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Prior to her tete-a-tete with the Arpaio, Bachmann met with briefly with reporters to discuss her views on immigration and Arizona’s role in the nominating process. This week, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer scheduled the state’s presidential primary for Feb. 28, a move designed to win the state more attention from the candidates. According to reporters on scene, Bachmann’s plan to solve the “border issue” includes increasing security along the U.S.-Mexico border, and eliminating benefits for illegal immigrants such as tuition breaks for their children – a pointed reference to a law Perry enacted in Texas.
Arpaio’s endorsement has been highly coveted by presidential candidates over the years. Former Sen. Bob Dole visited the sheriff’s Tent City (where he housed prisoners in non-air-conditioned tents in the middle of Phoenix’s blistering summers) during his unsuccessful 1996 presidential campaign. Arpaio endorsed George W. Bush in 2000, and then surprised many by endorsing Mitt Romney in 2008, over home-state candidate John McCain (the Arizona senator won the state and the GOP nomination).
Arpaio has considered running for higher office himself, and is reportedly considering a 2012 race for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. This weekend, Arpaio will be travelling to Iowa, where the first ballots of the 2012 presidential nominating process will be cast in caucuses early next year. He’s headlining a fundraiser for a local candidate for sheriff.
The Tucson Citizen reported that Bachmann’s visit came as a surprise to many local Republicans. “NOT good form when a presidential candidate comes to Arizona and fails to notify the state party or Governor,” the paper quoted Shane Wikfors of the conservative blog Sonoran Alliance on a Tuesday night Twitter feed. In a follow-up Twitter message, Wikfors expressed dissatisfaction with the Bachmann campaign “for blowing off conservative supporters in AZ tonight!”