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Bygones not bye-bye for Bill Clinton in California Democratic gov race

September 15, 2009 |  1:48 pm

Bill Clinton and Jerry Brown

In case you think ex-President Clinton forgets political slights, even after nearly two decades, think again. Here's a fascinating California political item, slightly edited for non-Californians, from our blog buddies over at L.A. Now:

Seventeen years after fellow Democrats Bill Clinton and Jerry Brown clashed in the 1992 race for the White House, the former president made clear today that bygones will not be bygones in the 2010 campaign for California governor: Clinton signed on today to support Brown rival Gavin Newsom in the Democratic primary next year. Newsom is the current mayor of San Francisco.

It is highly unusual – perhaps unprecedented, according to the mayor’s campaign – for a former president to take sides in a California gubernatorial primary. Sitting chief executives and former ones usually like to wait for the intraparty bleeding to stop before endorsing.

But the bad blood between Clinton and Brown, now the state's attorney general and also a former Oakland mayor, runs deep, much as Newsom would like Californians to believe that Clinton’s choice is based on merit alone.

"This is not some kind of payback on Bill Clinton’s part,” Newsom strategist Garry South said. “He doesn’t think that way.”

Tensions in the 1992 race for the Democratic presidential nomination peaked at a debate in Chicago, where Brown accused Clinton of “funneling money to his wife’s law firm for state business.”

That set off Clinton. “I don’t care what you say about me, but you ought to be ashamed of yourself for jumping on my wife,” he snapped, shaking his finger at Brown. “You’re not worth being on the same platform as my wife.”

Clinton plans two stops with Newsom on Oct. 5, a public event in East L.A. and a fundraiser in Los Angeles, with details still to be worked out, South said. Neither Clinton nor Brown, who has not yet formally entered the governor’s race, was immediately available for comment.

-- Michael Finnegan

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Photo: Presidential candidates Jerry Brown and Bill Clinton in 1992. Credit: Associated Press