A Jerry Brown Republican

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>Despite saturation coverage of the blockbuster, $200-million California gubernatorial race, a fascinating question has gone unanswered: Why is Don Sipple, one of the Republican Party's most controversial political consultants, working for Democratic candidate Jerry Brown?

A bit of history: among Latino voters in California, no politician is more toxic than former GOP Gov. Pete Wilson, whose tough tone against illegal immigrants is still credited -- or blamed -- with turning a swing constituency into a solid Democratic bloc. No one played a more central role in setting that tone than Sipple, who designed Wilson's 1994 campaign to sell Proposition 187, which cut off almost all government aid to illegal immigrants. Sipple produced the notorious ad that featured grainy images of people streaming across the Mexican border, with the tag line, "They keep coming."

Brown and this year's Republican nominee, Meg Whitman, are in the midst of a fierce fight to define themselves to Latino voters. Both know that, for the last 15 years, most Golden State GOP candidates have met certain death due to strong Hispanic opposition. A few weeks ago, Brown's team slammed Whitman for using Wilson in radio ads during the primary and then erasing any mention of him in her general election Spanish-language TV buy. Oddly, Whitman's campaign never counter-punched with Brown's own Wilson connection.

When reached for comment, Brown spokesman Sterling Clifford confirmed Sipple's place on the campaign, said he was unpaid, and added that "Jerry seeks input from a variety of people who give him broad advice." Asked why Brown -- who opposed 187 -- would turn to one of its architects, Clifford said, "Reaching across the aisle to Republicans is a high priority for Jerry." Neither Clifford nor Brown media consultant Joe Trippi would describe Sipple's specific responsibilities or offer Brown's own reaction to Sipple's past.

There is no record of Sipple supporting any other Democrat -- and no answer as to why the former Dole and Bush aide chose to work for Brown. Sipple did not respond to The Atlantic's messages. Sipple's former business associate (and 2003 Schwarzenegger campaign colleague), Mike Murphy, who is now Whitman's chief strategist, declined to comment.

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Brian Goldsmith is a contributor to TheAtlantic.com. A former political producer for the CBS Evening News, he is now a student at Stanford Law School.

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