Gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari, who is trailing badly in the polls, said Sunday that former President George W. Bush, 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney and other Republican leaders are aiding his campaign.
"A lot of people nationally have been helping," he told reporters after speaking to a Republican women's convention in Orange. "[Former Florida Gov.] Jeb Bush has been helping, [former Indiana Gov.] Mitch Daniels has given a lot of advice on economy policy.
"President Bush has been very helpful and made calls and opened doors," Kashkari said. "There are a lot of people who care about California."
The candidate said in his speech that Romney was providing "a lot of help." When asked if an endorsement was expected, Kashkari replied: "Stay tuned."
A former Treasury official who has never held elected office, Kashkari faces major challenges in his bid for the governor's chair.
He is virtually unknown, and his campaign has failed to raise the money it had hoped for. He has banked about $1.6 million, a fraction of the amount needed to reach voters statewide. Polling shows that his main GOP rival, Assemblyman Tim Donnelly of Twin Peaks, near Lake Arrowhead, is likely to win one of the top two spots in the June primary election; that would allow him to take on incumbent Gov. Jerry Brown in the fall.
Kashkari, who has spent much of his time trying to raise money since announcing his bid in January, said he planned to ramp up his efforts to reach voters.
"We're now at the final stretch between now and the primary, and absentee ballots are going to be mailing soon," he said. "The vast majority of voters today aren't paying attention to this race yet. They don't know who any of the candidates are."
He said "paid voter outreach" — typically television and mail ads — "is going to be very important to introducing me to all the voters who don't know me … or any of the other Republican candidates right now."
Donnelly, who has been running an insurgent campaign on a shoestring budget, has spent most of his time reaching out to Republican activists, Tea Party groups and others. On Sunday, he marveled at his front-runner status among the GOP candidates.
"It's scary. It's fantastic," he told reporters after speaking at the gathering. "I haven't spent a penny on advertising and I'm surging ahead in the polls, and my best-funded opponent, the one who has the most serious components of a campaign, is not gaining traction at all."
Donnelly, who is more conservative than Kashkari, said his lead in the polls shows that California Republicans don't want to become more centrist, which many in the establishment have suggested is the party's path back to power.
"I've never believed in that. I don't believe people want you to become more moderate or centrist," he said. "People respect people who are passionate about what they believe. They might not agree with you, but the key is your passion comes through, that you care about the people you're fighting for."
Brown is the overwhelming favorite to win in November, but Donnelly said he believes the mood of the electorate would make him a strong challenger.
"There's something in the air, that people want a fighter, they want someone to go and pick the right fight and take a stand. I think it indicates that I have a really good chance of unseating Jerry Brown.
"Doesn't that strike a little chord of fear in your heart?" he said, laughing.