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How Bill Clinton factors in California governor race

Former President Bill Clinton found himself tossed between Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman this week. Clinton endorsed Brown, but how the candidates respond could have more of an impact.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / September 15, 2010

Former President Bill Clinton speaks at a rally for Ohio Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland on Tuesday in Cleveland.

Tony Dejak/AP


Los Angeles

Former President Bill Clinton endorsed California Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown on Tuesday.

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Because of the tangled permutations of a ubiquitous Meg Whitman (R) TV ad, Brown’s response to it, and the checkered relationship of Brown and Clinton, the high-profile endorsement will have a convoluted effect on the race, analysts say. Polls find Whitman and Brown in a dead heat with weeks to go before the election.

Clinton found himself interjected into the California governor's race three weeks ago when Whitman began airing an ad with footage of him in a 1992 Presidential debate attempting to dismiss Brown’s claim that he had lowered taxes while governor of California from 1975 to 1983.

CNN, not me, CNN says his assertion about his tax record was, quote, just plain wrong,” said Clinton at the time. “He doesn’t tell people the truth,” said Clinton in the ’92 footage within Whitman’s ad.

That language contrasts strongly with the following note Clinton sent Tuesday to the Los Angeles Times:

“I strongly support Jerry Brown for governor because I believe he was a fine mayor of Oakland, he's been a very good attorney general, and he would be an excellent governor at a time when California needs his creativity and fiscal prudence."

In an email to the New York Times, Clinton sought to put distance between now and the 1992 campaign.

"The tough campaign we fought 18 years ago is not relevant to the choice facing Californians today. Jerry and I put that behind us a long time ago."

Brown's campaign has asked Whitman’s to withdraw the ad, and has been refused. Analysts say this could backfire on Whitman.

“When it first came out, I thought this was a brilliant ad, but they’ve been running it non-stop and now that Clinton and Brown have made nice and the public knows the claims aren’t true, it’s time to stop airing the ad,” says Barbara O’Connor, director of the Institute for Study of Politics and Media at California State University, Sacramento."The ad could backfire on Whitman," she says. "It doesn’t look good especially if Clinton comes out to campaign for Brown.”