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Democrat Jerry Brown on Tuesday released his first attack ads against rival Meg Whitman, portraying the Republican candidate as the notoriously lying Disney character Pinocchio with her attacks against him in the close race for California governor.
Public polls taken over the summer showed the race is a virtual tie.
The ads signify a shift by the Brown campaign to respond to a barrage of ads the billionaire Whitman has aired since June, including her most recent negative ad which features 1992 footage of former President Bill Clinton criticizing Brown's record during the Democratic presidential primary.
"We decided we needed to make it clear to voters that they're not being told the truth," Brown campaign manager Steve Glazer said. "We feel it's necessary to do this. We're trying to defend ourselves."
Clinton on Tuesday called Whitman's ad misleading and gave his endorsement to Brown, who a day earlier apologized for making an inappropriate joke about the former president's relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky and questioning his honesty.
"The tough campaign we fought 18 years ago is not relevant to the choice facing Californians today," Clinton said in a statement. "Jerry and I put that behind us a long time ago."
The two politicians have had testy relationship since the 1992 race, which featured vicious attacks from both sides. Earlier this year, Clinton endorsed Brown's former Democratic primary rival, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, before he dropped out of the race.
Brown's 15-second campaign ads will run for an undetermined amount of time statewide on network and cable television, Glazer said. He declined to say how much the campaign was spending.
It is the first time Brown has directly engaged with Whitman on the air, although union-backed groups spent about $8.6 million over the summer advertising on Brown's behalf.
Brown's absence from the airwaves and low-key campaign style this summer made some Democrats nervous that he wasn't doing enough to compete effectively with Whitman, who began running her general election TV and radio advertising immediately after the June primary. The former chief executive of eBay has spent $104 million of her own money so far in her bid for governor and spent the summer aggressively fundraising.
Brown, who said he wanted to conserve his cash over the summer, released his first campaign ad on Labor Day, a personal narrative reintroducing himself to voters.
His new ads show a caricature of Whitman whose nose grows when she lies about Brown's record.
"Wouldn't it be nice if every time Meg Whitman told a lie her nose would grow?" an announcer asks in one of the ads. It disputes Whitman's charges that Brown raised taxes as governor. "Taxes went down under Jerry Brown. But Whitman's nose keeps growing by the millions."
Whitman's ads have criticized Brown for raising taxes and spending a $6 billion state budget surplus when he was governor from 1975 to 1983.
"Jerry Brown is doing exactly what a 40-year career politician would do: Run from his real record and launch character attacks," Whitman spokeswoman Andrea Jones Rivera said in a statement.