What do the California GOP and the Alamo share?

It tells you how completely California has become a one-party state that practically no one in Sacramento believes that a Republican can beat Gov. Jerry Brown in November. But GOP big shots think it is very important which Republican loses to Brown, 76, in November — former Treasury official Neel Kashkari or Assemblyman Tim Donnelly.

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 dsaunders@sfchronicle.com.

Talk to us

More in Opinion

Editorial cartoons for Tuesday, Oct. 3

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

3d rendering Stack of vote button badges.
Editorial: Bring Davis, Hoiby to Marysville School Board

Both women have deep ties to the community and demonstrate commitment to students and families.

FILE — In this Sept. 17, 2020 file photo, provided by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Chelbee Rosenkrance, of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, holds a male sockeye salmon at the Eagle Fish Hatchery in Eagle, Idaho. Wildlife officials said Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021, that an emergency trap-and-truck operation of Idaho-bound endangered sockeye salmon, due to high water temperatures in the Snake and Salomon rivers, netted enough fish at the Granite Dam in eastern Washington, last month, to sustain an elaborate hatchery program. (Travis Brown/Idaho Department of Fish and Game via AP, File)
Editorial: Pledge to honor treaties can save Columbia’s salmon

The Biden administration commits to honoring tribal treaties and preserving the rivers’ benefits.

Patricia Gambis, right, talks with her 4-year-old twin children, Emma, left, and Etienne in their home, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019, in Maplewood, N.J. Gambis' husband, an FBI agent, has been working without pay during the partial United States government shutdown, which has forced the couple to take financial decisions including laying off their babysitter. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Editorial: Shutdown hits kids, families at difficult moment

The shutdown risks food aid for low-income families as child poverty doubled last year and child care aid ends.

There’s no need to reduce carbon emissions; plants need CO2

National Geographic states that “Most life on Earth depends on photosynthesis.” Photosynthesis… Continue reading

There’s a lot we can do to fight the climate crisis

If you are concerned about the climate crisis and are not sure… Continue reading

Comment: Trump committed financial fraud; now comes price tag

All that’s left for a New York court to determine is how big a fine to levy against the deal artist.

Comment: Estate tax would be ample, fitting child care solution

Using it to support child care programs would recognize the literal debt owed by wealthy Americans.

Comment: U.S.’s greatest foreign policy success in jeopardy

PEPEFAR, which provides HIV/AIDS treatment and saved countless lives in Africa, may not be nenewed.

Most Read