Politics

Sheriff Joe Endorses Perry

AMHERST, New Hampshire -- As he seeks ways to get his campaign back on track and differentiate himself from his fellow Republicans, Rick Perry was back in New Hampshire Tuesday, focusing on immigration reform and picking up an interesting endorsement.

Perry began a full day of campaign stops in the Granite State at Joey's Diner in Amherst where he was joined by the 'toughest lawman' in America, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

"I like the governor," Arpaio told the early morning breakfast crowd, before turning to Perry. "It's a pleasure and honor to endorse you for president."

The sometimes controversial sheriff, an outspoken proponent of immigration reform had been chased by Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann for his endorsement but said he settled on Perry because of his efforts to protect Texas' border with Mexico.

"I don't know the governor that well. We've spoken a few times. He's an honorable and ethical person with a nice family. We need that in Washington."

Immigration has become a major campaign issue as the GOP presidential contenders try to establish their conservative credentials.

Arpaio's endorsement serves as an answer to the October endorsement of Mitt Romney by another Arizona lawman famous for his tough stance on illegal immigration, Sheriff Paul Babeu.

On Tuesday Perry used Arpaio's endorsement to criticize the Obama administration's policy of releasing 'non-violent' illegal immigrants. "My policy will be to detain and deport every illegal alien we apprehend," said Perry.

But first Perry needs to win the Republican nomination. Tuesday morning he engaged in the kind of retail politicking New Hampshire is famous for, meeting and greeting diner customers and taking questions. This being New Hampshire, citizens took the opportunity to put the candidate on the proverbial spot, and one woman questioned him about Texas providing college tuition breaks to illegal immigrants.

"Our legislature made that decision and it's a state by state decision," said Perry, noting the vote was 181-4 in favor of allowing Texas residents to pay reduced fees regardless of legal status.

Perry signed the state's DREAM Act into law in 2001 and during a September FOX News debate called his fellow candidates heartless for criticizing his support of the program. This morning he said he regretted those words.

"I said people were heartless and that's an absolutely inappropriate thing for me to say."

Perry is trying to portray himself as the one true outsider in the race, saying he has no ties to Washington and is determined to reform a broken system. At one point he held up a pen and promised to veto every piece of legislation that includes an earmark, claiming he will balance the federal budget by 2020.

But time is running short. Perry jumped into the race for the White House in June and immediately established a commanding lead. Since then debate debacles have tainted his image, and while he has sought to shift attention to serious matters like the economy and immigration, his poll numbers have dipped to single digits. In six weeks New Hampshire voters head to the polls - leaving Perry just 42 days to convince Granite Staters he's the best candidate to compete against President Obama in next year's general election.