After Brown’s gaffe, Bill Clinton offers his endorsement

Party loyalty is apparently thicker than a personal grudge.

President Bill Clinton weighed in on the California gubernatorial race Tuesday, endorsing Democrat Jerry Brown. A former Democratic president backing his party’s standard bearer would be unremarkable, except for two facts: the men have had a rocky relationship since clashing in the 1992 presidential primary, and Brown — speaking off the cuff two days ago — called Clinton a liar and made fun of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Brown apologized Monday.

Clinton did not refer to the slight in his statement to The 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,” Clinton said.

Clinton became an issue in the gubernatorial contest last week, when Republican nominee Meg Whitman began airing a 30-second ad that featured footage of Clinton in a 1992 debate, trying to refute Brown’s claim that he lowered taxes as governor of California from 1975 to 1983. At the time, the two were presidential candidates.

" CNN — not me, CNN — says his assertion about his tax record was, quote, just plain wrong,” Clinton says in the ad. “He doesn’t tell the people the truth.”

As The Times reported Friday, the CNN report was inaccurate because it used the wrong year as its baseline. The state Department of Finance said that taxes when Brown left office were lower, per capita, than when he became governor. Clinton called the Whitman ad “misleading.”

“Moreover, the tough campaign we fought 18 years ago is not relevant to the choice facing Californians today,” Clinton said. “Jerry and I put that behind us a long time ago.”

The Brown campaign has called on Whitman to take down the ad; Whitman on Tuesday refused.

“Absolutely not, the essential elements of that ad are absolutely true,” Whitman said during an appearance on KTTV-TV Channel 11, adding that if annual state taxes were averaged over Brown’s eight-year term, the average would have been higher than when he took office.

The advertising wars continued unabated, both on and off the air. Brown announced he was airing two ads that portray Whitman as Pinocchio, her nose growing longer and longer — a specific response to Whitman’s Clinton ad. Brown’s commercials conclude that Whitman’s “nose keeps growing by the millions.”

Steve Glazer, Brown’s campaign manager, said the ads were necessary to combat what he described as $25 million of mostly negative advertising since the primary. By his count, the average Californian has seen more than 100 of Whitman’s attack ads since June, and 80% of her current advertising is negative, he said.

“Early on, Meg Whitman and an army of highly paid consultants made the decision that the only way they can win is to put her opponent through the wood chipper, truth be damned,” Glazer told reporters in Sacramento.

Whitman’s campaign, meanwhile, threatened to sue television stations that air an ad by the state teachers’ union. It claims she would cut $7 billion from schools.

“The spot is a lie,” wrote Whitman attorney Thomas Hiltachk. “As you know, your station can be held liable for slanderous or libelous statements made by a non-candidate sponsor of political advertising.”

The union protested, but the Whitman campaign said at least seven stations had agreed to pull the ad, in addition to Comcast and Time Warner cable systems.

“What they said about me was just wrong,” Whitman said, after speaking at a beverage firm in Culver City. “I want more money in the classroom.”