Because Democrats can use the top of the GOP ticket to gin up anger and turn out liberal voters, the GOP consultant class has rallied round Kashkari. He has the endorsement of GOP heavyweights — Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush and former Gov. Pete Wilson, who was convinced that Meg Whitman would beat Brown in 2010.
In 2014, Kashkari does feel like Whitman, without her billions. (Like Brown, he's only a millionaire.) With no election experience, the former Goldman Sachs exec decided he wants to be governor of California, and it didn't befit him to run for a lower office first, so he hired a bunch of consultants to cobble together a message that catches on like an old match on a pile of wet leaves.
In his only TV spot, Kashkari chops wood as he tells voters: “Career politicians are clueless about earning a dollar. All they know is how to spend yours. I'm Neel Kashkari. I'm not a politician, so I actually understand hard work.” My goodness, I groan, he's running for office; that makes him a politician — who doesn't know he's a politician.
At least the spot included Kashkari's most catching sound bite, his vow to stop high-speed rail, aka Brown's “crazy train.”
On the plus side, Kashkari is also Whitman without the angry fired illegal immigrant nanny. The son of Indian immigrants, he will be hard for Democrats to brand as a racist. He believes he can attract Latino and other minority voters.
Kashkari, 40, also believes that his support for abortion rights and same-sex marriage can draw some young voters to the Grand Old Party.
Yes, Kashkari is the guy who ran the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Yes, conservatives hate TARP. But Kashkari is convinced that once he explains that TARP spared the country from a depression and made money for taxpayers, he can win.
He doesn't understand that his biggest selling point isn't his success with TARP; it's Donnelly, who was put on probation for three years after he was charged with bringing a loaded gun into an airport in 2012.
If Kashkari is reminiscent of Whitman, Donnelly's bare-bones campaign resembles Brown's lean and idiosyncratic 2010 organization — if organization is the word. Kashkari has the money, but Donnelly has the votes. Polls show him with a big-cigar lead for second place.
The problem is that Brown was a quotable liberal. Donnelly is a quotable conservative — who is tone-deaf on race. For example, in 2006, as an unknown California Minuteman, Donnelly went to the border and declared: “I am a descendant of Jim Bowie, who died at the Alamo. It is rumored that he took a dozen Mexican soldiers to their deaths before they finally killed him. How many of you will rise up and take his place on that wall?”
Listen to the entire speech, Donnelly, 48, told me Thursday; he was taken out of context. Suddenly, the headline grabber is a babe in the partisan woods.
Or maybe he likes the attention so much that he doesn't care if it hurts his nonexistent chance of winning.
The Assembly passed a bill last week to prevent the state from selling Confederate flags. Donnelly was the lone Assembly member to vote against it. He told me he didn't think the bill was a trap.
Also last week, Donnelly posted a 2008 article that hit Kashkari for speaking at an event on finance and Shariah. Donnelly wrote of rumors that “Kashkari's support of Shariah” would be used as an “October surprise.”
Team Kashkari fought back. Adviser Aaron McLear felt it necessary to note that Kashkari is “not a Muslim; he's a Hindu.” McLear then wondered aloud whether Donnelly “thinks all brown people are the same.”
McLear was convinced that the post was a lowball tactic, but I figured that it was an on-the-fly mistake. Until, that is, I talked to Donnelly messaging guy Art Haynie, who repeatedly assured me that Donnelly doesn't “support the discriminatory nature of Shariah.” As for the Shariah post, it's just a link to an article, so there's no need to take it down.
Jon Fleischman, publisher of the uber-conservative FlashReport, said of Donnelly, “You always feel like he's one media interview away from a Todd Akin moment.” (For those of you who have forgotten, Akin was the Senate candidate in Missouri who made the dubious distinction about “legitimate rape.”) And: “I worry less about who's going to be more ideologically simpatico, because they're never going to get to govern. So suddenly, you worry about the effect on the rest of the ticket.”
The Republican Party sees a shot at breaking the Democrats' chokehold on Sacramento. A recent Field Poll reported Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin leading in the controller's race and Pepperdine University's Pete Peterson leading in the secretary of state contest. Republicans also want to keep their few state Senate and Assembly seats.
If Donnelly wins a place in the runoff, Democratic operatives will have only one problem: deciding on a given day which of the assemblyman's many missteps to use to discredit the California GOP — the Alamo, the Shariah hit on a Hindu, the gun bust or the Confederate flag.
Email Debra J. Saunders at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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