PHOENIX — Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann on Monday praised Arizona officials for their efforts to tighten border security and combat illegal immigration, saying the state was forced to act because the federal government hasn't done its job.
The elected officials singled out for praise by the Minnesota congresswoman included state Senate President Russell Pearce and Gov. Jan Brewer — Republicans who in 2010 respectively sponsored and signed one of the toughest immigration enforcement laws in the country.
"I can't speak highly enough for Arizona. I can't speak highly enough how they have faced the failure of the federal government," Bachmann said during a news conference after she met with Pearce and about a dozen other supporters of get-tough border and immigration policies.
A second candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, Herman Cain, also was scheduled to campaign in Arizona on Monday.
The two came to the state following a weekend of campaigning that focused on strong new attacks on illegal immigration. Cain, while campaigning in Tennessee, proposed the construction of an electrified fence on the border that would kill people who tried to cross while Bachmann signed a pledge to support a fence along the entire border with Mexico.
Cain on Sunday said he was only joking when he talked about building an electric fence.
"That was a joke and this is no laughing matter," Bachmann said Monday.
Cain was making a courtesy call on Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a Republican whose department is known for making sweeps of workplaces to nab illegal immigrants for identify fraud. Key parts of the Arizona enforcement law known as SB1070 have been put on hold by courts, but versions have since been enacted by several other states, including Alabama.
Other Arizona efforts including a fledgling fundraising campaign to pay for building more border fence.
Pearce later told reporters he welcomed Bachmann's support. But he also expressed some misgiving, saying Bachmann appeared to be indicating that the state didn't have its own responsibility to act.
Arizona's presidential primary will be held Feb. 28, after the initial round of early caucuses and primaries in states such as Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, but before most other states' contests.
A Dec. 1 debate for Republican candidates is scheduled in Arizona but a location has not been announced.
Arizona Senate Majority Leader Andy Biggs, a Republican who said he hasn't lined up behind a presidential candidate, said after the meeting with Bachmann that her visit was a sign that illegal immigration is a potent campaign issue.
"This still is a pressing issue for the vast majority of Republican primary voters," he said. "It's a critical issue to get out in front of, and I haven't seen anyone else get out in front of it."
Bachmann on Saturday signed a pledge in Iowa to support a fence all along the U.S.-Mexico border, and she assured those attending the mostly private meeting in Phoenix that border security was a "big issue" in Iowa, an early primary state.
Media representatives were allowed in the room for short portions of the meeting.
"It's important that we complete the fence in every portion," she said later during the news conference.
Arizona's fence project has raised $250,000 so far after three months, an amount that state. Sen. Steve Smith said will increase when the fundraising campaign is expanded in the near future.
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Federal per-mile costs for tough border barriers can easily top that depending on location and other circumstances, but Smith said the state project hopes to hold costs down through expected donations from construction companies and fence manufacturers.
A Democratic legislative leader, Sen. David Schapira, issued a statement after Bachmann's visit, saying the Republican candidate should be spending time in Washington working on immigration reform, instead of campaigning in Arizona with "out-of-touch Republican legislators."