By Alex Dobuzinskis
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - U.S. Representative Darrell Issa sharply criticized a California gubernatorial candidate from the Republican Tea Party faction who erroneously suggested a rival of Indian descent was supportive of Islamic Sharia law.
The squabble on Thursday among fellow Republicans in the most populous U.S. state comes in a race where Democratic Governor Jerry Brown has shown a commanding lead in opinion polls.
Earlier this week, a post on Republican candidate Tim Donnelly's Facebook page took aim at another Republican gubernatorial candidate, Neel Kashkari, for participating in a 2008 seminar titled "Islamic Finance 101" while he was a U.S. Treasury official.
"Given the recent stories and protests about the outrage of the discriminatory nature of Sharia law, we're horrified that Kashkari would support Sharia anything," the post said.
Donnelly's Facebook post came amid protests by Hollywood celebrities against the Beverly Hills Hotel over the government of Brunei's ownership of the landmark and the small country's enactment of Sharia law.
Issa, who previously endorsed Kashkari and is chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, joined the fray on Thursday in a strongly worded statement.
"There is no place in any public discussion for this type of hateful and ignorant garbage," said Issa, who is of Lebanese Christian descent. Kashkari is of the Hindu faith.
"As far as I'm concerned, this type of stupidity disqualifies Tim Donnelly from being fit to hold any office, anywhere. Donnelly is no longer a viable option for California voters," he said.
Donnelly, in a phone interview, called Issa's attack "overkill" and said the controversy was overblown.
"This whole thing has been a massive distraction from the real issues facing California," said Donnelly, a California assemblyman.
"Obviously it struck a nerve with people and it's unfortunate that it has been so widely misinterpreted and people of Mr. Issa's stature are reacting to something that I don't believe he ever read," he said.
Donnelly is leading Kashkari in opinion polls, but both candidates are trailing badly against Brown. A Field Poll released last month said 57 percent of likely voters were inclined to vote for Brown in the June all-candidates primary.
Kashkari spokeswoman Jessica Hsiang Ng said in an email that the conference on Islamic finance the candidate participated in while at the U.S. Department of Treasury was designed to bring free market principles to Islamic countries.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Ken Wills)