Meg Whitman has certainly started a war in her California gubernatorial campaign, but she’s not one of the combatants. Instead, by using video from the 1992 presidential campaign in which Bill Clinton attacked Jerry Brown’s record on taxes, Whitman has Brown attacking Clinton all over again. Here’s the Whitman ad, reminding California voters that Brown is not just a retread, but also less than honest about his record:
Time Magazine then posted this video of Brown’s reaction to the ad — where he attacks Clinton personally:
Mark Halperin calls the Whitman ad the best in this cycle anywhere:
The Whitman ad is probably the best TV spot by any campaign all cycle. Clinton and Brown have always had a rough relationship, which probably hit rock bottom in 1992, when, in the same debate from which the Whitman campaign lifted the Clinton video, Brown went after Hillary Clinton’s private sector employment in Arkansas, calling her dealings with the state a “major scandal.” Brown accused the former Arkansas governor of “funneling money to his wife’s law firm for state business.”
Under normal circumstances, Brown might have gotten some help from Clinton in this cycle, as Democrats would be rather desperate to blunt the momentum behind Whitman and try to rescue Barbara Boxer from losing her Senate election over it. Now, though, Brown appears to have burned that bridge — and it may be very costly, as Halperin notes:
Brown’s dissing of Bill Clinton is probably not going to sit too well with the many California voters with whom the former president is still majorly popular. And it surely makes the prospect that Clinton would campaign for Brown — not a sure thing before — even less likely.
And the outburst captured on the video is sure to reinforce the meme that Brown is a gaffe-prone hothead, since he has made more such mistakes than first-time candidate Whitman, a fact much noted by the media and of concern to some leading Democrats.
While it’s technically true that Brown never raised general-fund taxes, that only tells half the story. Brown opposed the landmark 1978 referendum, Proposition 13, which kept the state from rapidly escalating property values in order to soak homeowners for higher tax bills. After that passed, the state of California raised “fees” across the board, led by Brown and the Democrats. They also refused to consider indexing tax brackets to the high rate of inflation in the state during those years, which led to de facto tax increases as salaries rose but buying power declined. Since his two terms as Governor, Brown has supported tax increases, including during his stint in Oakland as mayor.
But that’s not the real takeaway from this ad and response. This demonstrates Brown’s airheaded approach to campaigning, his tendency to shoot off his mouth without thinking, and inability to think strategically. Even if Brown wasn’t an old retread from the 1970s, Californians should wonder why they would put their state in the hands of a candidate who can’t even get his opponents straight.