Endorsement Renews Immigration Focus
Texas Governor Rick Perry picked up a substantial endorsement when Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Phoenix, Arizona joined him on the campaign trail in New Hampshire. Perry’s dramatic tumble from the top in the GOP primary can be somewhat attributed to what has been called a soft stance on illegal immigration. An endorsement from Arpaio could be a campaign strategy as Perry takes a harder stance on such issues.
In a party with plenty of candidates claiming to be tough on illegal immigration, it did not play well when Gov. Perry signed a bill allowing the children of some illegal immigrants to attend state colleges while paying in-state tuition. Then the candidate said in one debate that people opposed to such a law “don’t have a heart.” His opponents smelled blood. Now, the Perry campaign hopes Sheriff Arpaio’s support will help shore up his credibility on the issue.
Ronald Mortensen is a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, an organization that calls for tougher enforcement of current immigration laws.
“I think it does have some kind of possibility, but it’s kind of like Perry has dug a very, very deep hole and Arpaio is throwing him a rope, to maybe pull himself out of the hole,” said Mortensen.
Perry coupled the endorsement from Arpaio with a promise that, as president, he’ll detain and deport anyone who crosses the border illegally. Mortensen said the strategy might take the spotlight off of Perry’s immigration record.
“In the past, he has supported in-state tuition, he has opposed the fence and has opposed e-verify – which is a very critical element of drying up the jobs and the incentive for people to come in,” said Mortensen. “So, the problem is now he’s trying to say, ‘I’m going to do something and become tougher and trust me I will do it.’”
The endorsement may restore Perry to favor with some voters. The Americans for Legal Immigration Political Action Committee, which takes a hard line on illegal immigration issues, said Perry’s presidential campaign was ended by the “heartless” remark. A spokesman for the group declined a taped interview but said people who are really paying attention to immigration policy won’t be fooled by Arpaio’s endorsement.
Others questioned the value of such an endorsement, as Arpaio is a figure rife with controversy. The sheriff is being investigated for various charges, including discrimination, unconstitutional search and seizure, and misuse of funds.
Jay Root covers the Perry campaign for the Texas Tribune, KUT’s political reporting partner. He attended Tuesday’s endorsement announcement.
“If you go on to get the nomination then, yeah, I could see possibly there being some blowback on that,” Root said, “but I think the primary is a very conservative electorate and Perry’s trying to shore up his support.”
The most recent New Hampshire poll put Gov. Perry at around 2 percent – trailing front-runner Mitt Romney by 32 points. Perry sits at about 7 percent in Iowa, where the GOP caucus will be held in just over a month.