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Perry works to counter immigration questions in NH

HAMPTON, ATKINSON and MANCHESTER NH -- Stumping in Mitt Romney's backyard on Saturday, an energetic Texas Gov. Rick Perry worked aggressively to assure New Hampshire voters that he is the best GOP candidate to address border security and immigration issues.

"I'm a governor. I don't have the pleasure of standing on the stage and criticizing," he told a town hall audience in Hampton, in reference to attacks he has weathered from rivals on his handling of illegal immigration in his home state of Texas. "I have to deal with these issues."

Perry fielded questions throughout the day on his support for a 2001 bill to offer in-state tuition to illegal immigrants, which he explained as a state-based solution to prevent those students from ending up "on the government dole" due to their lack of education. He also highlighted his fights as Texas governor to institute voter identification laws and prevent illegal immigrants from obtaining drivers licenses. 

Although Romney signs and T-shirted volunteers were present throughout the governor's four campaign appearances of the day in New Hampshire, Perry did not attack Romney by name -- instead focusing on his own economic credentials and his solutions for border security.

Asked about the issue by a voter who supports Perry's philosophy of strategic metropolitan fencing rather than a continuous barrier across the US-Mexico border, Perry said that the latter would create a "false sense of security we don't have boots on the ground."

The Texas governor also suggested that he would be open to sending U.S. troops to Mexico to aid that nation's government in eliminating drug cartels -- a position he also voiced before his 2012 run.

"We were able to stop the drug cartels in Colombia was with a coordinated effort. It may require our military in Mexico, working in concert with them, to kill these drug cartels and keep them off our border and to destroy their network," he said. "I don't know all the different scenarios that would be out there, but I think it is very important for us to work with them to keep that country from failing."

Perry spokesman Robert Black said that Perry was not advocating specifically for a U.S. military presence in the nation's southern neighbor, but that he is prepared to "look at all options" to help resolve violence that is spilling over the border. "We need to look at any ways that we can coordinate to shut that violence down," Black said.

Perry also continued to tout his economic credentials, even hinting at some additional star power in his kitchen cabinet when he mentioned that he has been consulting with former presidential candidate Steve Forbes on fiscal policy.

Black confirmed that Perry met with Forbes in New York on a recent fundraising visit.

From the seacoast to the state's hub, Perry hopped across southern New Hampshire, hitting a woodsy town hall, a country club crowd, and a chili cookoff dampened by afternoon rain.

He finished his Granite State swing by kissing one of the region's most important political rings.

Appearing at the home of Republican gubernatorial candidate and one-time Senate contender Ovide Lamontagne, Perry offered vocal support to a candidate whose endorsement is one of the most prized of the cycle.

"This country will be better when you have a man like Ovide in your capitol," Perry said. "That's the kind of governor that we long for in this country."