Maryland's Democratic governor Martin O'Malley simultaneously lauded Texas Gov. Rick Perry and handed Perry's presidential opponents ammunition on Thursday by praising Perry's willingness to break with Republican dogma on immigration policy.

Other Republican presidential candidates have lambasted Perry for signing a law that allows Texan undocumented immigrant students to pay in-state tuition at public universities. O'Malley, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, applauded Perry for standing firm.

I do admire his willingness to stand up to the immigrant-bashers and thinly-veiled racism and scapegoating that is so rampant in their party, O'Malley said during a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

Perry's defense of the in-state tuition law distinguishes him from the hardline, enforcement-heavy immigration stance adopted by other contenders for the Republican nomination. In addition to criticizing Perry, several other candidates have sought an endorsement from Maricopa County, Arizona's notorious Sherrif Joe Arpaio, who has become a divisive symbol of tough immigration enforcement.