By Martin Wisckol
Presidential hopeful Michelle Bachmann, warming up for a Friday rally in at the O.C. fairgrounds, spoke with me by phone this afternoon from Phoenix, where she'd just finished meeting with controversial Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
"We had a very productive meeting with Sheriff Joe," said the Minnesota congresswoman. "I was very impressed."
Arpaio is a hero to anti-illegal immigration activists for his efforts arresting undocumented workers, including workplace roundups. Critics have complained that he's spending taxpayer resources on the effort when the attention is needed on violent and property crimes.
"That's not really within my scope of understanding to be able to comment," she said.
Bachmann, a Tea Party favorite, was steadily polling in double digits until Texas Gov. Rick Perry entered the race in August. RealClearPolitics' aggregation of major polls now shows Perry at 32 percent, Mitt Romney at 20 percent, and Ron Paul with 10 percent, and Bachmann with 7 percent.
Bachmann brushed aside Perry's sudden rush to the top of the polls.
"That's pretty typical when you have a new candidate come in, a change of the dynamic," she said. "Certainly that happened four years ago. Fred Thompson came in, his polling was very high. The same with Rudy Giuliani. John McCain was way back in the pack.
"It's not a sprint, it's a marathon. And I think with the debates, we're continuing to see more and more of the layers peeling back, of who the candidates are, what they stand for."
Perry has drawn some of support from former Bachmann backers, but she's tried to make some key distinction to win them back. Among them is pointing out Perry's support of in-state tuition for some illegal immigrants going to public colleges.
"People have made it very clear to me that they do not want to see taxpayer-subsidized benefits go to illegal aliens," she said.
"I think what sets me apart is, No. 1, that I have already proven myself to be a consistent champion in Washington, D.C. already fighting on these issues. I'm the person who fought ObamaCare. I was the person who introduced the full repeal of ObamaCare. We need someone who has stood squarely and strongly on that issue.
"When it comes to immigration, I've been a very consistent, strong, conservative voice on securing the border and fighting on immigration."
An Arpaio spokesman told the Associated Press that the sheriff has also received calls from Perry and Romney.