GOP gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari announced Monday that he had been endorsed by three prominent members of his party: 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney, former California Gov. Pete Wilson and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista).
Romney said he was backing Kashkari because the former U.S. Treasury official understands how to create jobs and fix schools.
"Democrats' big-government policies have hurt the middle class and reduced opportunity for Americans across the country, and that's the reason it's so important to elect leaders like Neel Kashkari, who understand how to jump-start the private sector, fix our schools and get people working again," Romney said in a statement.
"Republicans in California and across the nation must unite behind candidates who will fight for our party's principles of fiscal responsibility and hard work — and I believe Neel is that candidate," the statement said.
It is unclear whether endorsements will sway voters in the June 3 primary election. But they could help if the endorsers, notably Romney, open up their donor networks to Kashkari, who is trailing well behind GOP state Assemblyman Tim Donnelly in public opinion polls.
The two are competing to capture one of the two top spots in the June 3 primary election to take on Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown in the fall. Brown holds a commanding lead overall.
Donnelly (R-Twin Peaks) said he wasn't worried by his opponent's endorsements. They represent the party establishment "circling the wagons and trying to protect their power," the lawmaker said.
"The vast majority of Republicans do not want to be represented by somebody that voted for Obama, who ran TARP instead of a business," Donnelly continued, referring to Kashkari, who cast a vote for Obama in 2008 and ran the taxpayer-funded bank bailout. "I've been endorsed by central committees, activists and respected groups up and down the state."
A spokesman for Brown poked fun at the endorsement by Romney, who lost California to President Obama by 23 points in 2012.
"I can't imagine a single California voter looking at their ballot and saying, 'WWMD — what would Mitt do?' " said the spokesman, Dan Newman.
Mehta reported from Los Angeles and Mason from Sacramento.