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Gordon Brown's 'bigoted' comment threatens to shake up campaign

Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologized after he was caught on microphone calling a grandmother "bigoted" after the two chatted in front of the media.

That off-the-cuff remark captured exactly what George W. Bush's reelection campaign wanted to make its central argument against the Democratic nominee, that Kerry was a man of no conviction and someone who had flip-flopped on issue after issue in his Senate career. Kerry never fully shook the flip-flop label through the rest of the campaign.

Brown described himself as "mortified" by how he had described Duffy to his aides. He sought her out and spent 39 minutes apologizing and explaining and trying to extricate himself. Once he was informed that his remark had been heard around the country, he moved as quickly and as genuinely as he could to make amends. He said he had not understood exactly what she was saying. He described himself as a "penitent sinner."

He could hardly have done more.

But nothing he, his wife, Sarah, or senior Labor Party officials said in the aftermath of the incident could undo the damage of what he said. That's because the comment seemed to summon up every negative characteristic attributed to Brown during his long career in the Labor Party.

He has been described as a bully, as someone given to raging moods of anger, who blames others for his own mistakes, who despite great intellect and enormous power has acted as an insensitive and insecure, a man who brooded constantly at the slights and perceived slights at the hand of his rival, former prime minister Tony Blair.

In this campaign, Brown has sought the support of voters by emphasizing his experience in contrast to his two younger rivals. But he has been undermined by questions about his temperament and the charge that he is out of touch with ordinary people. Putting him out in front of voters like Gillian Duffy was designed to overcome those problems. It did the opposite.

The question is whether Brown's gaffe will prove his ultimate undoing. Campaigning Thursday morning, Brown tried to move past Wednesday's disaster. "Yesterday was yesterday," he told workers at a factory, without needing to say more. "Today I want to talk about the future of the economy."

Thursday's final debate, which begins at 3:30 p.m. EDT, will focus on the economy, Brown's supposed strong suit. It is all he will want to talk about. But it is the gaffe that has dominated the pre-debate commentary and now threatens to overshadow his performance in that debate and color the way the country sees him as they decide how to vote on May 6.

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