You've Got to Accentuate the... Negative?

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You saw this coming, right?

One day after playing defense for a weekend gaffe, the campaign of Jerry Brown is turning from penitent to pugnacious -- launching two new ads that portray Meg Whitman as Pinocchio and less than forthright when it comes to Brown's record.

For those keeping score at home, election day is now exactly seven weeks away, so it's not surprising for some punches to be thrown on both sides in this high stakes race.

After weeks -- maybe months -- of playing a little bit of political rope-a-dope, Brown today came out swinging, by calling Whitman a liar. In a round-about way, that is.

The 15 second ad is designed to be 'book-ended' with the second 15 second ad along the same lines -- which means that a TV viewer sees part one, mulls over the message while other commercials hum along, then sees the second 15 second ad just before their favorite TV show returns.

"Whitman's nose keeps growing by the millions," the narrator says. Of course, the poor wooden puppet who wanted to be a real boy is probably one of the most commonly used (overused?) political characterizations, an easy way to raise questions about a politician's honesty. In this case, it's another round of attacks on Whitman's 'Bill Clinton Calls Out Jerry Brown' television ad that was launched just last week.

"Meg Whitman and her army of highly paid consultants made the decision that the only way they can win is to put her opponent through the wood chipper," said Brown's campaign manager Steve Glazer in a Sacramento press conference.

(Wouldn't Pinocchio be afraid of a wood chipper? But I digress.)

Glazer said that Brown feels it's time to fight back. "Enough is enough," he said.

And as if to prove his point, Glazer then proceeded to encapsulate just about every criticism of Meg Whitman from the past few months into one 18-second barrage:

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Whitman's camp returned fire by uploading another sampling of the Clinton Greatest Hits from the 1992 presidential contest -- though that might be dampened somewhat by Clinton himself. Today he told the Los Angeles Times that he supports Brown's bid for another term as governor. "The tough campaign we fought 18 years ago," said Clinton of the 1992 presidential primary, "is not relevant to the choice facing Californians today."

The Whitman campaign was unfazed, choosing to instead focus on what they say is Brown's record of generally higher state spending as governor, a claim the Associated Press is calling "misleading."

For Brown, the decision to launch negative ads -- his second and third TV ads of the campaign, respectively -- was probably more a question of 'when' rather than 'if.' The race is simply too close at this point to not fire back at your opponent. In fact, a poll released today by Fox News (though criticized by Team Brown for its connection to so-called robo polls) shows Whitman with a slight edge.

Brown's campaign manager dismissed the Fox poll, in particular, for what he sees as an oversampling of independent voters in California. Glazer seemed to hint, in comments after today's news conference, that independent voters might be turned off by a campaign full of negative ads. So isn't Brown now contributing to that, he was asked?

"Hey, we just react," said Glazer. Expect those reactions to continue before this one's over.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.

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