Debra J. Saunders

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.


Debra J. Saunders


 
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