Mum’s the word as Brewer shuns debates

With big lead, Arizona governor has little reason to participate

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer insists she won’t participate in any more debates after her notorious brain-freeze moment in the first gubernatorial debate, but so far that doesn’t seem to be hurting her with the voters.

The Republican incumbent, who carved out a national profile earlier this year after signing the state’s toughest-in-the-nation illegal immigration statute, is maintaining a consistent double-digit lead over her Democratic foe, Attorney General Terry Goddard. A Rasmussen Reports poll released Tuesday found her with 55 percent of the vote compared with 39 percent for Mr. Goddard.

In a year of dramatic lows and highs, Mrs. Brewer, who inherited the job when former Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano joined President Obama’s Cabinet, appears to have staged yet another comeback in a race many predicted she would lose.

Her debate performance last month, in which she appeared to lose her train of thought right at the start and paused for an excruciating 12 seconds, did nothing to hurt her standing with the voters; in fact, a Rasmussen survey taken in the next few days showed that her lead actually increased.

The Goddard campaign is fuming over her decision to avoid another public give-and-take, but under Arizona law, the candidates must participate in only one debate in exchange for accepting public campaign funds.

“Why is Jan Brewer hiding?” said Mr. Goddard in a recent statement. “Is something wrong or is she so controlled by her lobbyist advisors that they won’t let her speak? … [T]he people who manage her plan to keep her quiet until after the election. They’re playing a cynical game of keep away with the Arizona voters.”

Unfortunately for the Goddard campaign, Mrs. Brewer isn’t wavering. Told that Mr. Goddard had criticized her stance, she told Capitol Media Services, “And you think I care?”

She’s admitted that her no-debate position is purely political - she says she’ll reconsider if she drops in the polls - but analysts agree that she’s making the smart call, even if she does lose votes over it.

“As frustrating as I know it is for Terry Goddard, it is absolutely the right strategy,” said Arizona political analyst Michael O’Neil in an e-mail. “It will probably cost her a couple of points in the polls, but she has more than enough of a lead to spare that with ease. She simply has nothing to gain by debating.”

Six months ago, the road to victory looked considerably rockier. She clashed with her fellow Republicans over her support for an increase in the state sales tax, and she wasn’t even the favorite to win the GOP primary against two strong rivals, state treasurer Dean Martin and millionaire businessman Buz Mills.

Her pivotal moment came April 23 when she signed Senate Bill 1070, the anti-illegal immigration proposal that requires state law enforcement authorities to ask suspected undocumented aliens for identification if they are being detained for another offense.

The move catapulted her into the national spotlight as she defended the bill in the face of criticism from President Obama. Her feisty refusal to back down in the face of protests and boycotts of the state made her a popular target, but Arizona voters immediately rallied around her.

“Part of Brewer’s appeal is clearly her signing of and defense of the immigration law,” said pollster Scott Rasmussen. “But another part of her appeal is that a lot of people in Arizona don’t like their governor and their state being picked on by outsiders.”

The Obama administration promptly challenged the law in court, and key provisions have been put on hold by a Phoenix federal judge while the constitutional issues are hashed out.

Mr. Goddard has called his opponent’s stance on the immigration law “election-year grandstanding” and said that the law doesn’t address the real roots of the state’s immigration problems. He favors policies that would target the drug cartels and their cash-flow networks.

“She signed a bill she could not defend in court and it’s led to boycotts, to jeopardizing our tourism industry and polarizing our state,” said Mr. Goddard.

The Goddard campaign has also attacked Mrs. Brewer on the jobs lost during her tenure as governor and the state’s budget woes. Her refusal to participate in a second debate “is a disservice to Arizona,” said Goddard spokeswoman Janey Pearl.

Mrs. Brewer’s numbers did dip slightly from last month’s Rasmussen survey, which showed her leading by 60 percent to 38 percent. Unfortunately for Mr. Goddard, his numbers remained virtually unchanged, meaning that most of those who abandoned Mrs. Brewer joined the “undecided” camp, not his.

Brewer spokesman Doug Cole said that Arizona voters are already more than familiar with Mr. Goddard, who served previously as mayor of Phoenix and unsuccessfully sought the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 1990 and 1994.

“The people of Arizona know who he is. Why should we give him a platform to try to remake himself?” said Mr. Cole.

He also dismissed the impact of her previous debate gaffe. “The people of Arizona appreciate a politician who tries to collect their thoughts,” Mr. Cole said, “as opposed to a politician who rambles on.”

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