Bill Clinton upstages Jerry Brown in California governor's race

The rivalry between Jerry Brown and Bill Clinton, including personal attacks, goes back years. Now, they're having to make nice as Clinton – highly popular in California – stumps for Brown.

Chris Carlson/AP
Former President Bill Clinton applauds as California Attorney General and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown speaks during a campaign event at UCLA in Los Angeles Friday, Oct. 15. Lieutenant governor candidate Gavin Newsom looks on.

In California Friday night, two lifelong politicians with Olympic-size egos and a decades-long rivalry featuring really nasty exchanges occupied the same stage at the same time without killing each other.

For a while, in fact, it actually looked like they got along (though it may have been through gritted teeth).

Such is the necessity of campaigning when intraparty bygones really do have to be bygones if one is to win in closely-contested races.

We’re talking about Democrats, of course, in this case Bill Clinton and Jerry Brown.

The former president was at UCLA stumping for the once and (perhaps) future governor of the Golden State. Clinton said nice things about Brown.

Brown reciprocated, but he has a problem.

Back in 1992, Brown and Clinton fought it out for the Democratic presidential nomination. They slammed each other’s positions and records, sometimes falsely – Clinton suggesting that Brown had raised taxes during his first stint as governor, Brown alleging that Clinton (as governor of Arkansas) had directed state contracts to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s law firm in Little Rock. And of course it’s all on tape.

Meg Whitman – the billionaire former eBay executive and Republican candidate for governor – is having fun with all of this.

This being California, her campaign put together a little movie titled “The Way We Were” and featuring those old clips of Clinton and Brown slamming each other. There was even a “premier” showing at a Los Angeles theater with balloons and free popcorn. A crowd of young Republicans whooped it up.

But it’s not just ancient history. The Brown-Clinton difficulties reemerged as recently as last month.

Irked by Whitman’s attack ad featuring an old Clinton clip about Brown’s raising taxes as governor (a false charge made during a 1992 Democratic primary debate), Brown questioned Clinton’s truthfulness and even made a little jab taken as a reference to Monica Lewinsky. He apologized the next day.

It has to be tough for Jerry Brown. He’s won statewide election four times, but Bill Clinton seems to have been more personally popular in California. He even beat Brown in the California native’s home state – in the 1992 presidential primary. And Clinton’s first choice for California’s next governor was Gavin Newsom, the telegenic much younger Mayor of San Francisco now running for lieutenant governor.

At the end of the UCLA rally, Brown slipped offstage. Clinton stuck around for a long time, shaking hands and signing autographs.

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