Perry scores Sheriff Arpaio endorsement

Rick Perry announced Tuesday that he had earned the endorsement of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the controversial but influential Arizona lawman known for his tough stance on 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 Gov. Rick Perry. I have been watching Gov. 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," said Arpaio in a statement.

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Perry has slipped in the Republican race, due in no small part to a series of debate gaffes, including when he said that his opponents who did not agree that the children of illegal immigrants should be afforded in-state tuition benefits did not "have a heart." Perry apologized for the statement, but the moment bruised the Texas governor's credibility with his conservative base over immigration. The campaign clearly hopes the Arpaio endorsement, which was first reported by NBC News, will help Perry rebuild his immigration bona fides.

"Sheriff Arpaio knows the struggle border states face as Washington politicians and bureaucrats fail time and again to properly secure our nation's southern boundary with Mexico," said Perry in a statement. "I am honored to have Sheriff Arpaio's support for my presidential campaign and our shared goals of fighting border crime with more personnel, border fencing and surveillance."

Arpaio's endorsement had been highly coveted among GOP candidates. In addition to Perry, he met personally with Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain in Phoenix and spoke to Mitt Romney over the phone. Arpaio cited Perry's immigration record as the deciding factor in making his decision.

"I'm endorsing Rick Perry because we need a tough-on-crime president who will champion and fund full-time border security operations from Brownsville to San Diego," Arpaio said. "Gov. Perry has a superior border security record and plan to make our border and our nation safer."

Arpaio and Perry plan to campaign together Tuesday in New Hampshire.

Arpaio, known as "America's Toughest Sheriff," has served as the Maricopa County sheriff for 20 years and is a veteran of the U.S. Army and Drug Enforcement Agency. Arpaio endorsed Mitt Romney over John McCain in the 2008 Republican primary.

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