No candidate campaigned harder this spring
that Neel Kashkari, the former federal Treasury Department official and
ex-Goldman Sachs executive who just become the first Asian-American ever
nominated to for governor of California.
He was someplace every day. His
campaign issued a seemingly non-stop barrage of press releases. He willingly
met with political reporters, who took him seriously even when he was at 2
percent in the polls. Kashkari also won the endorsements of every prominent
Republican who took sides in this week's primary election. These included
ex-Gov. Pete Wilson, former presidential nominee Mitt Romney (now a La Jolla
resident), possible GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush and Rep. Darrell Issa
of northern San Diego County, chairman of the House Governmental Oversight
Committee. Ex-President George W. Bush made fund-raising calls for him. There
are no bigger GOP guns.
But Kashkari’s campaign was so cash-starved that during
the month before the vote, the candidate who once said he couldn’t fund his own
campaign because his net worth was “only” about $5 million felt he had to put
up $2 million of his own cash (by his reckoning, about 40 percent of all his
This was still barely enough to put Kashkari into the November
runoff election, beating out primary opponent Tim Donnelly, an assemblyman from
the High Desert town of Twin Peaks best known for attempting to carry a handgun
onto a Southwest Airlines flight at Ontario International Airport two years
Before that, the Tea Party favorite’s main claim to fame was being a
co-founder of the Minutemen group battling illegal immigration. Imagine what
that might have done to the Latino vote.
Donnelly’s campaign manager, Jennifer
Kerns, quit in mid-March, amid reports the candidate consistently refused to
take her advice. He compared President Obama to Adolf Hitler and groundlessly
accused Kashkari of promoting Islamic Sharia law.
Yet, somehow, Donnelly almost
managed to make the runoff, primarily because much of the Republican Party’s
California base believed he was the only purely anti-government candidate
Kashkari’s win meant that the Republican establishment beat back the
grass roots GOP right this spring. In a contest that drew very few Democratic
voters, Kashkari’s last-minute spending inspired just enough moderate
Republican voters to back him. Many apparently feared having Donnelly top their
ticket would drag down dozens of other Republicans in swing districts, while
Kashkari might be a neutral factor.
As of early May, just over two weeks before
the first absentee ballots went to voters, Kashkari had barely run any
commercials. So he was undefined to most voters before his last-week ad
campaign, even as Donnelly tried to tag him a purely establishment hack.
least Kashkari is a real candidate. While Donnelly railed vaguely against big
government, Kashkari issued detailed position papers on job creation and
Kashkari’s primary win over Donnelly at least indicates the GOP does
not have a total death wish, as it avoided nominating a candidate who could
alienate even more voters than the California GOP already has. But in a very
lightly-voted election, with Democrats having little at stake in most places,
Brown still managed to win a large majority over both Republicans combined.
It’s possible Kashkari will make inroads into that cushion by the fall, for
he’s promised that if elected, he will frequently compromise with Democrats who
dominate the Legislature. The vote also might indicate GOP feelings against
illegal immigration have eased a bit, as the party nominated the son of
immigrants while rejecting a leader of the vigilante-like Minutemen.
line is that after flirting with a potentially deep electoral disaster, just
enough GOP voters realized that their party would be a dead duck on many levels
if it sent Donnelly against Brown, whose job approval ratings in polls this
spring were well over 50 percent.
All of which probably means Brown, sitting on
a campaign war chest of more than $21 million, will still have a clear path
this fall, but the GOP likely will at least avoid a Democratic clean sweep of
every competitive race in the state, which Donnelly could have made a distinct
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