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Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown visits the San Jose Mercury News opinion/editorial board in San Jose on July 29, 2010. (Gary Reyes /Mercury News)

SACRAMENTO -- Former President Bill Clinton announced on Tuesday he is endorsing Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown, brushing aside a recent personal slight from his old nemesis to come to his aid against Republican Meg Whitman.

The endorsement, which he issued through a statement to the Los Angeles Times, came a day after Brown apologized to Clinton for making an oblique reference to Monica Lewinsky and questioning Clinton's truthfulness.

The blunder appeared to damage his chances of getting Clinton to repudiate a Whitman TV ad that uses footage from a 1992 debate in which Clinton accuses Brown of lying about his tax record.

In his statement, though, Clinton called the ad misleading and said that his claim in the 1992 debate was based on an erroneous report. Brooks Jackson, the author of the CNN report, now the director at FactCheck.org, has acknowledged the error, though Whitman has refused to pull the ad.

"Moreover, the tough campaign we fought 18 years ago is not relevant to the choice facing Californians today," Clinton said. "Jerry and I put that behind us a long time ago."

Brown said he was "deeply honored" to have the endorsement.

Clinton's endorsement came just as Brown's campaign was unveiling two hard-hitting TV ads accusing Whitman of lying about Brown's record. The two 15-second spots show Whitman's nose growing, Pinocchio-style, as the narrator says her claims about taxes and jobs were false.

Brown's campaign manager Steven Glazer said that the Whitman campaign's refusal to pull the ads after several requests prompted Brown to go negative seven days after Brown began his on-air campaign.

"We tried to exhibit as much restraint as we could but at this point we decided we needed to make it much more clear to voters that they're not being told the truth and that she seems to feel she can lie about Jerry Brown's record with abandon," Glazer said.

He added that the ads, which will run in media markets around the state on cable and network TV starting today, are an attempt to "define the race a little more clearly in the area of character. You have a candidate who lies with abandon and she should be held accountable for that."

In Clinton's endorsement, he called Brown a "fine mayor" of Oakland, a "very good" attorney general, and adding that "he would be an excellent governor at a time when California needs his creativity and fiscal prudence."

Clinton made no mention of the slight made by Brown, in which he vaguely raised the Monica Lewinsky scandal and joked about Clinton's ability to tell the truth.

Brown had said, "I mean, Clinton's a nice guy but whoever said he always tells the truth? You remember, right? There's that whole story there about did he or didn't he. OK, I did not have taxes with this state. So, let's be clear about that."

It was a gaffe that put his campaign on the defensive for a day. That Clinton responded so quickly with his endorsement was remarkable, given the history of bad relations between the two. As late as last fall, Clinton had endorsed San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom over Brown in Newsom's short-lived run for governor.

Clinton said he supported Newsom because of his support for Hillary Clinton in 2008.

Whitman's campaign downplayed the endorsement and insisted Clinton's 1992 criticisms remain valid.

"We've always expected this and we also expect President Clinton to endorse the entire Democratic ticket," said Andrew Jones Rivera, a Whitman spokeswoman. "The fact remains that President Clinton's criticism was correct. Jerry Brown turned a surplus into a billion-dollar deficit and campaigned vigorously against Proposition 13, and it's a fact that, on average, taxes went up over his eight years as governor."

Contact Steven Harmon at 916-441-2101.