London, England (CNN) -- UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown described himself as a "penitent sinner" on Wednesday after personally apologizing to a voter he described as a "bigoted woman."
Brown visited the home of Gillian Duffy in Rochdale, northwestern England, after he was caught on microphone describing in blunt terms his encounter with the 65-year-old widow whom he met on the election campaign trail.
The Labour party leader had had a discussion with Duffy about the size of Britain's national debt, tax and immigration.
Brown then got into his car and was driven away but he was still wearing a radio microphone, allowing broadcasters to pick up his conversation with an aide.
"That was a disaster," Brown said about the encounter seconds earlier. "Should never have put me with that woman -- whose idea was that?" He added: "She was just a sort of bigoted woman."
The woman, Gillian Duffy, told reporters she wanted an apology from Brown over his "very upsetting" comments.
Brown later visited Duffy at her home, emerging to tell reporters: "I am mortified by what has happened. I have given her my sincere apologies. I misunderstood what she said. She has accepted that there was a misunderstanding and she has accepted my apology.
"If you like, I am a penitent sinner."
The encounter was immediately seized on by users of social networking sites, with opinions polarized between those who said it would damage Labour in the May 6 general election and those who believed it could help the party, currently trailing the opposition Conservatives in opinion polls.
One Twitter user, Thermalsocks, said: "Gordon Brown has created a total survailance society. Glad to see he got caught out, now he knows how we all feel."
Another user, urbantaoist85, said: "Anyone else up for making all politicians wear a microphone at all times?" Ririnyan added: "I wonder if that was the final nail in the coffin for Labour this time." Andy_Francis said: "I think GB has just kissed goodbye to any chances Labour had left."
However CupCate wrote: "I'd be more concerned if Brown had said, "What that brilliant woman said about all those damn immigrants, too right!"
After his public apology, Brown telephoned Duffy to apologize personally. The prime minister's spokesman said: "Gordon has apologized to Mrs. Duffy personally by phone. He does not think that she is bigoted.
"He was letting off steam in the car after a difficult conversation. But this is exactly the sort of conversation that is important in an election campaign and which he will continue to have with voters."
Asked about Brown's comments, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, who has surged in the opinion polls following his appearance in the televised election debates with the other two leaders, told the Press Association: "You should always try to answer the questions as best you can."
He added: "He has been recorded saying what he has said and will have to answer for that."
But one Twitter user, SusanCalman, spoke for many when she said: "I feel sorry for Gordon Brown. If people I've met knew half the things I'd said about them when I left I would be stabbed and left for dead."