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Campaign Notebook: Clinton’s classic touch is apparent in endorsing Brown

Bill Clinton sought to lay to rest any sign of lingering animosity between himself and Jerry Brown this week. Not only did he vow to come to California to campaign with Brown and Gavin Newsom, the party’s nominee for lieutenant governor and FOB who received Clinton’s backing in the gubernatorial primary.

But listen carefully to Clinton’s embrace of Brown. His endorsement was downright, well, Clintonian.

“I believe he was an exceptionally good mayor of Oakland, I believe he’s been a very good attorney general,” Clinton said in an interview with Yahoo! News at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative. “And I believe he has this combination of real creativity and openness to new approaches and fiscal prudence – he’s pretty tight with a buck when he needs to be. And I think that’s what California needs now.”

Just note the timeline of all of the things Clinton praised Brown for. Even in his new embrace of Brown, Clinton is careful not to contradict anything he said in 1992. Brown was elected mayor of Oakland in 1998 and attorney general in 2006 – both well after he ran against Clinton for president. So while praising Brown for Governor in 2010, Clinton is tacitly standing by the critiques he levied against Brown in 1992.

Of course, the story that Clinton based his original attack on has since been recanted by the reporter who wrote it all those years ago, and Clinton has acknowledged that. But he did not apologize for his scathing critique of Brown’s record during that 1992 campaign.

Speaking of Clinton, the current race for California governor is markedly anti-Clintonian in tone. If Clinton was the great empathizer, both of the current candidates for governor seem to lack that gift for connecting with the common person on the stump.

That said, the two candidates are markedly different in a number of ways. One of the obvious differences is their discipline on the campaign trail.

Brown has acknowledged his “warts” on the stump but brags he is a “real person. “I’m not an advertisement,” he told a cheering crowd in Sacramento at a Labor Day event. But neither Brown nor Whitman would be accused of having a real gift when it comes to political bedside manor.

If anything, you would think the man who’s been in elected politics for the better part of 40 years would be the disciplined politician and the political neophyte would be the loose cannon. Of course, you’d be wrong.

If Jerry Brown is a rhetorical time bomb on the campaign trail, Meg Whitman is unflappably sound-bite driven. Questions to Whitman on the campaign trail from reporters and audience members alike quickly become rote repetitions of the candidate’s well-worn stump speech.

At a campaign stop in Sacramento Monday, Whitman was asked about new figures that show more than 15 percent of Californians are now living in poverty. Her answer quickly turned into a collage of vignettes from her stump speech.

Reporter: More than 15 percent of the state’s population is now living in poverty. What’s your message to those living in poverty?

Whitman: “I am the very best candidate for governor to create jobs in California, to create the conditions for small businesses to grow and thrive. If we’re going to be led out of this recession we’re going to be led out by small business.

“I’m going to decrease taxes to give employers the confidence to hire. I’m going to streamline regulation,” she added. “And I’m going to compete for every single job in California. And this is a huge difference between me and Jerry Brown. His history is a tax and spender. Just as recently as last year, he was a proponent of Prop. 1A and that would have put in place the single-largest tax increase in California history. So it’s a very different point of view.”

The Brown campaign’s answer wasn’t any better. Brown spokesman Sterling Clifford pointed again to Brown’s plan to bring thousands of new green-energy jobs to the state as the core of Brown’s strategy against poverty. Clifford said Brown’s proposal would create new jobs at varying skill levels and help Californians get back to work.
So much for the “feel your pain” approach…

Brown and Whitman are scheduled to appear on stage with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger just days before the Nov. 2 election in what is being billed as a conversation about the future of California.

The three will appear together at the Women’s Conference 2010 in Long Beach. The three will discuss the state of the state in a conversation moderated by NBC’s Matt Lauer.
Brown and Whitman are scheduled to meet in four debates before election day. The first will take place Tuesday on the campus of UC Davis. The Long Beach appearance is the only Southern California event at which both gubernatorial candidates are scheduled to appear.

The joint appearance was announced by California First Lady Maria Shriver’s office Wednesday. Others scheduled to appear at the conference include Oprah Winfrey and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.


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