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California and the West | CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / GOVERNOR

Harman Rekindles Debate With Ad Featuring Clinton

April 22, 1998|DAVE LESHER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — The White House found itself in the midst of a squabble in the California governor's race Tuesday: Two Democrats are feuding over the right to use President Clinton in their television commercials.

The ruckus started last week when the White House asked businessman Al Checchi to stop broadcasting Clinton's picture in one of his commercials because the president wants to remain neutral in the primary.

But Checchi was still using Clinton's picture in his ads last weekend. And Democratic candidate Jane Harman decided to fire back Tuesday by putting Clinton in her own commercials.

"Obviously, the Harman campaign cannot allow the Checchi campaign to promote the false perception that Mr. Checchi enjoys a special relationship with President Clinton," Bill Carrick, Harman's media strategist, wrote in a letter to the White House late Tuesday.

Harman, a three-term congresswoman from Torrance, was broadcasting the new commercial throughout California by Tuesday afternoon. Aides said it would continue for at least a week--about as long as Checchi's ad was aired.

The 30-second Harman spot contains an image of President Clinton praising the congresswoman during a 1996 fund-raiser he attended at her husband's audio-electronics manufacturing plant in Northridge.

"I very much admire the work that Congresswoman Jane Harman has done in the United States Congress," Clinton says in the video. "She is, I think, the best of a new breed of political leaders who wants to see our country go beyond the old division of stale, partisan political debates, to find creative ways for government to work with you, to create better jobs and brighter futures for all Americans."

White House officials said Tuesday that they would probably respond to the Harman ad in the same way they did to Checchi's.

That means she will receive a form letter from the president's counsel warning that the commercial violates "long-standing White House policy forbidding the use of the name or the image" of the president without consent.

"We are not taking a position in this primary," White House political director Craig Smith said Tuesday. "We like all three of the [Democratic] candidates. We think any of these people would make very good governors."

Lt. Gov. Gray Davis is the third major Democrat in the governor primary. State Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren is the only major Republican candidate in the race.

Checchi officials said their commercial, which pictured a brief conversation between Clinton and Checchi, has been taken off the air. They said the delay was approved by Clinton in a recent conversation with Mark Penn, a Democratic pollster who works for Clinton and Checchi.

White House officials said that if the ads were not removed, they would consult with attorneys about additional steps. At the same time, however, they were happy that the president is so popular that candidates are fighting to use his picture.

"When you are at 70% in the polls, that happens more often," Smith said.

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