Florida Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, who as the House Majority Leader is the highest ranking Hispanic in his state's government, met with Perry earlier this week in Miami. “I was very impressed with what he had to say,’’ said Lopez-Cantera. He added that he will likely make a decision about an endorsement before the state party’s straw poll next week.
Lopez-Cantera said Perry's participation in the poll will give him a leg up in Hispanic-rich Florida over Bachmann and Mitt Romney, who are not attending the event in Orlando. "It shows he realizes the importance of Florida,'' he said.
Perry's stand on immigration defies the traditional drift of Republican primary candidates toward the conservative wing of the party. Before he bowed out of the race, Tim Pawlenty called his one-time support for cap-and-trade policy a “clunker.’’ Mitt Romney has repudiated his past support for abortion rights.
Attacked from the right during Monday’s debate by Santorum and Bachmann, Perry was willing to acknowledge regret over his efforts to require vaccinations for 12-year-old girls against a sexually transmitted disease that causes cervical cancer. But he stood by his skepticism about the effectiveness of a fence along the Mexican border as well as his support for a 2001 law that allows the children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state college tuition rates.
“The bottom line is it doesn't make any difference what the sound of your last name is. That is the American way,’’ Perry said. “No matter how you got into that state, from the standpoint of your parents brought you there.… And I'm proud that we are having those individuals be contributing members of our society rather than telling them, you go be on the government dole.’’
That line drew boos from the audience, heavily comprised of activists from the conservative tea party movement. Picking up on the crowd’s disapproval, Bachmann said: “I think that the American way is not to give taxpayer subsidized benefits to people who have broken our laws or who are here in the United States illegally.’’
Bachmann's best hope of sustaining her campaign is by undercutting Perry among conservative voters. On Wednesday, she met with an Arizona county sheriff known for his outspoken hostility toward illegal immigrants, Joe Arpaio, and called him "one of my heroes.'' On conservative talk radio shows in South Carolina, which will hold one of the first presidential primaries next year, an ad run by a North Carolina group called Keep Conservatives United criticizes Perry for supporting in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants. "The difference is clear," the ad says. "To stop illegal immigration, support Michele Bachmann.''