Thursday brought the latest advertising skirmish in the race for governor, as both Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman released new ads targeting independent voters, whose support in November is critical to either candidate's victory.
Brown, the Democratic nominee, touted talking points — living within California's means, no new taxes without voter approval, returning control to the local level — that could come from a Republican playbook. Whitman, his GOP rival, unveiled her seventh attack ad against Brown, this time enlisting the words of former President Clinton during their contentious 1992 Democratic presidential primary battle. Tellingly, both candidates avoided mention of their political party.
Californians not affiliated with a political party make up one-fifth of the state's voters, and they are unpredictable, said Allan Hoffenblum, a former Republican strategist and publisher of the nonpartisan California Target Book
"They voted for Arnold in '06 and Obama in '08. How they vote come November will be the determining factor of who the next governor is," he said.
The ads — biographical for Brown, attack for Whitman — reflect the different stages of the candidates' campaigns. Whitman, a billionaire whose effort has no money worries, never stopped campaigning after she won a hard-fought primary in June. Brown did not have a competitive primary, and remained off the air until this week to conserve his far smaller bank balance.
"He is trying to brand himself. He doesn't really have the luxury of going after her just yet; he has to tell people who he is," said Larry Gerston, a political science professor at San Jose State. "She has already branded herself, and so now what she's trying to do is basically dismantle his credibility."
Whitman's 30-second ad consists of video from a 1992 debate in which Clinton said Brown's statements about his tax record in California were "just plain wrong." He accused Brown of opposing Proposition 13, then taking credit for it, of raising taxes and of turning a surplus into a deficit as governor. "He doesn't tell the people the truth," Clinton concluded.
The Brown campaign said Clinton was relying on faulty numbers from a CNN report about tax increases, and cited a report from Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office that said taxes fell during Brown's tenure.
Brown did oppose Proposition 13, but once it was approved by the voters, he so enthusiastically implemented it that the measure's co-author, Howard Jarvis, voted for him in his next gubernatorial bid. Brown had a surplus during seven out of eight years; it turned to a deficit the final year as the nation was gripped by recession.
Attempts to reach a Clinton spokesman were unsuccessful.
A spokesman for the Brown campaign said it was in talks with the former president's staff, but declined to give additional details.
"He's expressed a willingness to be helpful; our campaign has expressed a desire for him to be helpful," said spokesman Sterling Clifford.
Brown's new 60-second radio ad attempts to tap into voter frustration with Sacramento by touting his acts while in office: vetoing pay raises and cutting taxes while creating jobs. Along with his similar television ad, the radio commercial is meant to reassure Californians who fear he's a big-government, tax-and-spend liberal.
"Today our state is in serious trouble," Brown says. "We need to make major changes — think differently and govern differently. By making the tough decisions now, we can get California back on track."
Whitman spokeswoman Andrea Rivera Jones called Brown's claims "revisionist history."
"The point is that his record has already been combed through, and he's lost the argument twice," she said. "And President Clinton is a pretty good spokesperson for the inaccuracies in Jerry Brown's record."