PHOENIX — Gov. Jan Brewer rose to national fame defending the state's immigration law and warning of rising violence along the U.S.-Mexico border, including a claim that headless bodies were turning up in the Arizona desert.
But the claim has come back to haunt her after her stammering debate performance in which she failed to back it up and ignored repeated questions on the issue from a scrum of reporters.
Brewer has spent the time since backtracking and trying to repair the damage done from her debate against underdog challenger Terry Goddard.
"That was an error, if I said that," the Republican told the Associated Press on Friday. "I misspoke, but you know, let me be clear, I am concerned about the border region because it continues to be reported in Mexico that there's a lot of violence going on and we don't want that going into Arizona."
She said she was referring to beheadings and other cartel-related violence in Mexico in comments she made earlier this summer about decapitated bodies found in the state's southern region.
Brewer stumbled through her opening statement of the debate Wednesday. She lost her train of thought for more than 10 seconds as she laughed, looked down at the table and finally regained her composure.
Goddard, who trailed by 20 points in a July poll, said he brought up the beheadings comments because Brewer hadn't acknowledged she was wrong.
"It's a kind of fear-mongering that has hurt our economy. It has driven jobs away," he said. "She wouldn't come off it."
Brewer apparently first referred to beheadings during a June 16 interview with Fox News.
She went further in a June 27 interview on Phoenix television station KPNX when asked about the earlier beheadings claim.
"Oh, our law enforcement agencies have found bodies in the desert, either buried or just lying out there, that have been beheaded," Brewer said.