PHOENIX (AP) — GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain apologized again Monday for remarks about building an electric fence on the Mexico border that could kill people trying to cross illegally, but he indicated the controversial proposal was still on the table.
“It was a joke,” Cain said emphatically during a news conference with Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. “I apologize if I offended anyone. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa.”
But when asked later in the news conference why he refused to take ownership of the comments, Cain said that he did, and that he was only apologizing if he offended anyone.
He said he wouldn’t apologize for proposing a combination of tactics to crack down on illegal immigration that would include a fence, “and it might be electrified. I’m not walking away from that. I just don’t want to offend anyone.”
Cain was the second Republican candidates to visit Arizona on Monday. Earlier in the day, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann met with state officials and praised them 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.
Bachman and Cain 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 was making a courtesy call on 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.
During Cain’s news conference downtown, protesters outside chanted and held signs that said “Boycott Hate.”
His appearance at the sheriff’s office was delayed about 30 minutes because of a security issue leaving nearby Scottsdale, officials said. Cain declined to elaborate on exactly what caused the delay, saying only that “when you become a top tier candidate, a lot of nuts come out.”
After the news conference, Cain went to a fundraiser at the convention center. Organizers said the event was so popular they had move it to the larger venue. About 1,000 people were expected.
Pearce 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 along the entire 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.
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.”
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