Image: Moderator Ted Simons (back to camera), Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry Goddard, Green Party candidate Larry Gist and Republican Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer Jan Brewer, Terry Goddard, Larry Gist
Matt York  /  AP
From left; Moderator Ted Simons (back to camera), Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry Goddard, Green Party candidate Larry Gist and Republican Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer go over the rules prior to a televised Arizona gubernatorial debate on Wednesday.
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updated 9/2/2010 7:29:00 PM ET 2010-09-02T23:29:00

It will go down as one of the most painful openings to a political debate in recent memory.

Gov. Jan Brewer stumbled and stammered through her opening statement during a televised debate Wednesday night, suffering through an embarrassing, cringe-eliciting pause that lasted more than 10 seconds.

With her hands clasped in front of her, she looked at the camera, then down, possibly at notes, and back up at the camera. She smiled, let out a loud exhale, then resumed her statement with a pronouncement of her record as governor.

"We have, uh, did what was right for Arizona," Brewer said, using a grammatical misconstruction she uttered twice during the debate.

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Then, she bolted from a post-debate question-and-answer session with reporters after refusing to respond to queries about a past statement about bodies supposedly found beheaded in the Arizona desert.

Video of the pause and the post-debate walkoff from the media scrum quickly became an Internet sensation as Brewer was skewered on political blogs Thursday.

"Jan Brewer: Bumbling politician of the year," salon.com headlined its post. "The rising star governor of Arizona gives a painfully awful debate performance."

Some called it her Stockdale moment, a reference to James Stockdale's bumbling debate performance as H. Ross Perot's running mate in the 1992 presidential race.

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Brewer herself acknowledged Thursday during an interview on a talk show on Phoenix radio station KTAR-FM that she could have done better.

"It certainly was the longest 16 seconds of my life," Brewer said of the pause. "I'm human, I'm human."

She said the post-debate questioning by reporters was unfair, but added that leaving as she did might have been "the wrong thing to do. "

"But that's how I felt at the moment," she added.

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Brewer became governor in January 2009 when her Democratic predecessor resigned in midterm and the Republican drew national attention when she signed the state's controversial immigration law on April 29.

The immigration law turned her into a popular politician among Republicans around the country as she runs for a full term against Democratic Attorney General Terry Goddard. She is heavily favored to win.

Not surprisingly, Brewer said she doesn't think she'll debate Goddard again. He previously challenged her to six debates across the state and his campaign renewed that call Thursday.

Goddard was not immediately available for comment Thursday on Brewer's performance, but campaign spokeswoman Jeanine L'Ecuyer was willing to take a mild shot at the opponent. "Obviously this is difficult for her," said L'Ecuyer.

The debate itself was peppered by heated give-and-take jabs by Brewer and Goddard over immigration, the state's budget troubles and a recent prison escape, often with the candidates talking over each other.

Goddard also took Brewer to task over her comments about beheadings in the desert. He said such comments are false and hurting the state's image and economy. That could help neutralize the immigration issue, and Goddard is also attacking Brewer on economic and budget issues.

Patrick Kenney, an Arizona State University professor of political science, said Brewer's stumbles could hurt her, especially with the clip of the pause being replayed all over TV and the Internet.

"That clip and that part of the story is being replayed," Kenney said. "It's not the kind of image that any politician wants."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Arizona: ‘Headless’ bodies and clueless governors

  1. Closed captioning of: Arizona: ‘Headless’ bodies and clueless governors

    >>> good evening from new york. even though a federal judge gutted the key provisions of arizona 's papers please immigration law , new polling suggest arizonans still approve of it and like the woman who signed it into law. last tuesday, jan brewer ran away with her state's republican primary . last night she ran away from the media in her fifth debate. not only was she unprepared to deliver her prepared statement. but her evening ended when she bolted from reporters asking about her own claims of decapitated torsos in the arizona desert. headless bodies and clueless governors. last night was the first and one expects the last between jan brewer and terry goddard and the libertarian and green party challenges. brewer leading by as much as 20 points in recent polling. all she had to do last night was play keep away . instead, during her opening remarks, she got more lost than bobby and cindy brady in the grand canyon .

    >> finally we hear from jan brewer .

    >> thank you, ted. it's great to be here with larry, barry and terry. thank you all for watching us tonight. i have -- done so much. i just cannot believe that we have changed everything since i've become your governor in the last 600 days. arizona has been brought back from its abyss. we have cut the budget. we have balanced the budget and we are moving forward. we have done everything that we could possibly do. we have -- did what was right for arizona . i will tell you that i really did the very best that anyone could do.

    >> since i behad come -- unfortunately for brewer that ten-second period of silence might have been her most effective use of time all night. her claim of a balanced budget was false. brewer's democratic opponent took her to task for the budget lie. he also went after the governor for her anti-immigrant fear mongering over the summer when she was claiming they needed sb- 1070 to prevent beheadings in the desert.

    >> which beheadings were you referring to?

    >> law enforcement agencies have found bodies in the desert, either buried or lying out there that have been beheaded.

    >> coroners and law enforcement have no records of beheadings in arizona . last night, brewer's democratic opponent to retract her claim because it continues to scare people and business away from the state.

    >> jan, i call you upon you today to say that there are no beheadings. that was a fails statement and it needs to be cleared up right now.

    >> terry, i will call you out. i think that you ought to renounce your support and endorsement of the unions that are boycotting our state.

    >> which is kind of symmetrical because he didn't endorse the boycott. the debate ended with the bizarre post debate press conference. she fielded question after question about headless bodies in the desert.

    >> governor, why won't you recant the comment you made earlier about the beheadings in the desert?

    >> seriously, that's a serious question, governor.

    >> this was an interesting evening tonight. of course, you saw a complete display of the difference between myself and terry goddard . we will continue to move forward.

    >> governor, seriously, the fact is if you're talking about -- you were complaining about terry goddard and unions and people not coming to the state. maybe people aren't coming here because you're making comments about headless bodys.

    >> the big thing that didn't happen tonight was terry goddard never gave us a plan. terry goddard has never had a plan. if he has, he hasn't shared it. it's about time he steps up and brings us a plan. being governor is not an easy job, terry. you need to get your plan out.

    >> what about the headless bodies?

    >> will you please answer the question, governor?

    >> why won't you recant that? do you still believe that?

    >> okay, thank you all.

    >> oh, come on!

    >> i'm joined by paul waldman with prospect magazine . isn't any campaign for any office in our land in some trouble if its candidate is to had are this question, what about the headless bodies?

    >> not necessarily. that's not the only crazy thing she has said about this issue. she said most undocumented immigrants who come to america are drug mules . but as long as people in arizona are talking about the crazy things jan brewer has said about illegal immigration , if nothing else, they're still talking about illegal immigration , which is the issue she wants this election to be all about. so although it doesn't necessarily put her in the best light, that's one thing that does do for her.

    >> the governor did respond to the headless torso question. she did the radio interview today and said the bottom line is, there have been beheadings in the border region in mexico . does that settle it politically, or politically speaking, are the headless bodies still alive?

    >> that's not going to satisfy the reporters and it really shouldn't. she didn't say there were headless bodies in mexico . she said there were headless bodies in arizona , the state she's governing. the politically smart thing to do when you make a mistake like that, is to say, you know what, i was mistaken. i was wrong. everybody will move on. when you're literally fleeing from reporters, it will make them more eager to pin you down.

    >> now putting the two statements together, it appears headless bodies are illegally crossing the border from mexico to arizona . it's more of a problem than if she said, i screwed up. the start of this, the lack of preparation. she allowed that her pause did not constitute her finest hour. if you are a resident of arizona and your governor freezes for are ten seconds and can't talk for two minutes about her accomplishments with a script in front of her, even in arizona , could this hurt a campaign?

    >> brewer was something of an accidental governor. in arizona , they don't have a lieutenant governor. when janet napolitano became secretary of homeland security , brewer was in charge of elections. she ended up becoming governor. she wasn't necessarily all that prepared. but, you know, unfortunately, people don't always vote for the candidate who they think is the smartest or the most competent. politics tends to be much more about things like identity. and as long as jan brewer can be the anti-immigrant candidate, she's going to be in a good position.

    >> she has not taken the debate. she's confirmed there will be no more debates with terry goddard before november. is it plausible this did anything seriously to her 20-point lead or did she wrap-up the election by not saying anything further?

    >> before she signed sb- 1070 , her approval ratings were in the 40s. the latest polls show her with a double-digit lead over goddard. it will take something dramatic to push him to victory. perhaps as long as she can keep her mouth shout, she'll be safe.

    >> nuclear-fueled zombies. i'm beneath that's

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