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CA-Governor: Will Clinton Respond to Whitman's Ad?

Republican Meg Whitman's new ad in the California governor's race uses Bill Clinton's words against fellow Democrat Jerry Brown. Will Clinton come to the defense of his old rival?

If you haven't seen it yet, here's Meg Whitman's striking, much-buzzed new ad:

The first thing I thought when I saw this ad was, "Wow, that's just like Dan Hynes' Harold Washington ad against Pat Quinn." Hynes was running in the Democratic primary for governor against Quinn in Illinois. He used an old clip of Washington, a beloved former Chicago mayor, bashing Quinn. In a cycle of good ads, it remains one of the most memorable ones.

The concept is the same. Both use the words of a person that a key bloc of voters trust (blacks in Illinois, moderate Democrats in California) to discredit a political opponent. Hynes lost the primary, but there's a pretty good case that the ad helped him make a late charge. He lost by less than 10,000 votes out of more than 900,000 cast after trailing badly for most of the race. Today, given the way Quinn is polling, lots of Democrats probably wish Hynes had won.

But, then a second thing occurred to me: "The Clinton ad isn't just like the Washington ad. Harold Washington is dead."

The fact that Washington had died 23 years ago led some people to question the taste of Hynes' ad. But, it also meant that the one person who might have most effectively rebutted the ad -- Washington -- wasn't around to do it.

Clinton's endorsements and campaign stops almost always seem to reflect his long political memory. Why is he showing up for a third-tier candidate like Michael Thurmond, the Democratic nominee for Senate in Georgia? Thurmond endorsed Hillary Clinton for president in 2008.

Clinton clearly remembers that Brown is his old rival from the 1992 presidential race. He endorsed San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom for governor before Newsom backed out.

Still, Clinton has been a Democrat's Democrat, a loyal party stalwart. He could neutralize Whitman's ad pretty effectively by showing up in California and endorsing Brown. Will he?

Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..
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