Updated | 5:41 p.m. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer delivered what has been described as a “disastrous” performance in last night’s gubernatorial debate with her Democratic rival, Terry Goddard. Anyone with a working Internet connection has heard or blogged about it by now. But in case you missed it: For 13 seconds, Brewer seemed either to forget what she had done as governor, forget that she was the governor, or just have a Christopher Walken seeing-into-the-future moment, à la “The Dead Zone.”
In any case, Brewer experienced some sort of momentary lapse during her opening statement. She began, haltingly, by defending her record as governor: “I have, uh, done so much and I just cannot believe that we have changed everything since I have 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 we could possibly do.”
Then she stared down at the papers in front of her, laughed painfully, and managed the following: “We have did what was right for Arizona.”
And at that, a viral video was born.
Brewer maintains a commanding lead in the polls over Goddard, the Democratic candidate and Arizona’s attorney general, so the debate flub is unlikely to threaten her candidacy. Brewer’s popularity soared after she signed and championed Arizona’s controversial anti-immigration law. Before the passage of that law, Goddard had managed to edge out a small lead over Brewer, who was mired at the time in the state’s budget crisis.
But something even more peculiar, and perhaps more inflammatory, has been happening in the Arizona gubernatorial election. Brewer has claimed several times that Arizona police have found “headless” bodies lying around in the desert, as a result of illegal immigrants ferrying illegal drugs over the border. Journalists have asked for evidence of these beheadings, but so far, nothing has turned up. And Brewer doesn’t seem to have much interest in facilitating the fact-finding process.
Goddard has picked up on the “headless bodies” claim as evidence that Brewer’s stewardship of Arizona has tarnished the state’s reputation and made people afraid to travel there. “What is hurting us right now economically are statements, false statements made by Jan Brewer, about how Arizona has become so violent, that we are a place of fear, and we have beheadings in the desert,” Goddard said during the debate. “Jan, I call upon on you today to say that there are no beheadings. That was a false statement, and it needs to be cleared up right now.” The point was promptly ignored by Brewer.
Reporters gave Brewer one more chance to explain herself after the debate. A reporter from the local ABC affiliate asked, “Governor, why wouldn’t you recant the comment you made earlier about the beheadings in the desert?” When Brewer offered only a bemused look and silence, another reporter chimed in: “Seriously. It’s a serious question, Governor.”
Brewer ignored the questions and instead reiterated a talking point from the debate about the Obama administration and the budget. When pressed further by more reporters, Brewer said, “OK, thank you all,” and left, prompting groaning and shouts of “Come on!” from the throng of reporters.
Brewer and her aides initially ignored further questions about the Mystery of the Headless Bodies on Wednesday. Christina Boomer, the local ABC reporter who started the beheading-themed round robin during the press conference, tweeted Wednesday morning that she had contacted the governor’s office to attempt, once again, to get an answer. “Since 9a I’ve called Brewer’s team and sent them an e-mail. Want to give her a chance to respond to last night’s events,” Boomer wrote. “Haven’t heard back.”
Later in the day, Brewer told Arizona radio station KTAR that the furor over her “beheadings” claim had been “blown totally out of proportion,” and explained that she was referring to widely reported incidents of drug violence in neighboring Mexico. “The bottom line is that there have been beheadings in the border region in Mexico,” Brewer said. “We all should be concerned about the drug cartels and what’s going on and the spillover into the state of Arizona.”