With his campaign teetering on the edge of political oblivion, Texas Gov. Rick Perry is reaching out to Arizona’s autocratic Sheriff Joe Arpaio — the self-described “toughest sheriff in America — to try and resuscitate his ailing White House bid.
It is a significant pickup for Perry, who has fallen to the back of the 2012 pack after a series of weird speeches and debate performances. Arpaio, an illegal immigration hardliner, has been one of the most highly coveted endorsements of the 2012 GOP race, and Mitt Romney, Herman Cain, and Michele Bachmann have all actively courted his support.
The Perry campaign is clearly looking to Sheriff Joe’s endorsement to beat back criticism that the candidate is soft on immigration, just as the 2012 campaign conversation is returning to the issue. With Newt Gingrich taking heat for his relatively moderate immigration positions, the Perry camp may be hoping that voters will start to see the Texas Governor as a viable alternative to both Gingrich and Romney. (Arpaio backed Romney in the 2008 election.)
But Sheriff Joe’s support doesn’t come without baggage. The Maricopa County sheriff is a shameless self-promoter, known for his theatrical immigration raids and unapologetically harsh — and borderline un-Constitutional — treatment of county inmates. His most famous antics include forcing inmates to wear pink underwear, housing prisoners in “Tent City,”an unairconditioned extension of the county jail he refers to as a concentration camp, and orchestrating a raid that involved action star Steven Seagal driving a tank into someone’s home.
Sheriff Joe is also under at least two investigations into his office’s misuse of public funds. In September, he freely admitted to Business Insider that he is “under investigation by everyone from the White House all the way down,” including probes into allegations of civil rights violations and abuse of power.
But Arpaio will likely be an asset to Perry on the campaign trail, in spite of his checkered record. He is a boisterous stumper with a cult following, and his popularity among the other 2012 candidates will make him hard to attack. In the end, however, even Sheriff Joe probably isn’t enough to bring Perry’s campaign back from the dead.
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