Former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado announced Thursday that he was dropping out of the governor's race, leaving Assemblyman Tim Donnelly of Twin Peaks as the sole declared GOP candidate, at least for now.
Maldonado said he wanted to spend more time with his family.
"I know today California can do better. But after having traveled all over the state and giving it my all I have concluded that now is not my time," he said, according to prepared remarks. "It's time to step away for a while and spend more time with my family and stay a little closer to home helping my community, as an active private citizen."
The move dramatically shifts the gubernatorial contest. Maldonado had the most recognizable name among Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown's potential challengers and is known as a political moderate.
Donnelly, a tea party favorite and the founder of a Minuteman border-patrol chapter, said Thursday that Maldonado's move would give voters a clear contrast between Brown and any Republican who challenged him in November's general election. Brown has raised millions of dollars in campaign funds and is widely expected to seek reelection, but has not announced his intention.
"Our goal in this primary has always been to clear the field so that we can focus on our primary opponent, Jerry Brown," Donnelly said.
Another Republican, former U.S. Treasury official and investment banker Neel Kashkari of Laguna Beach, is also eyeing a gubernatorial bid, and has said he would make a "major speech" on Tuesday. A representative for Kashkari declined to comment on Maldonado's decision, but Kashkari said on Twitter that he admired the former lieutenant governor's public service.
Democratic leaders said Maldonado's withdrawal reflected Brown's popularity among voters and the likelihood that he would be reelected. A political spokesman for Brown riffed on a Maldonado statement the previous night that Brown was a good governor but that he would be better.
"He's right that Jerry Brown has been a very effective governor, and as a result the only faction that wants to stop the progress being made is the Tim Donnelly-tea party-Minuteman crowd," said Dan Newman.
Maldonado's undeclared campaign was fraught with rocky patches. He announced in April that he was considering running for governor and started fundraising.
He kicked off his campaign by fumbling an effort to blame a horrific crime on Brown's efforts to reduce prison overcrowding, building a news conference around an offender who was released more than a decade before Brown took office in 2011.
By summer, Maldonado was struggling to raise money and spending heavily on consultants. In his July fundraising disclosures, he reported raising more than $300,000 but had less than $45,000 in the bank and had campaign debts.
In September, news leaked that his top advisors were no longer with the campaign, though it is unclear whether they were fired or quit. One told The Times that they had advised Maldonado to abandon his bid for governor.
Maldonado remained relatively quiet in the following months, as Donnelly entered the race and Kashkari announced he was considering getting in.
On Thursday, Maldonado announced his withdrawal from the race at a news conference outside Santa Maria City Hall, where his political life began as a member of the City Council and mayor. He was elected to both houses of the state Legislature, where he served until then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed him lieutenant governor in 2010 after John Garamendi was elected to Congress.
Schwarzenegger made the move after Maldonado, then a state senator, crossed party lines in 2009 to vote for tax increases, earning him the wrath of the GOP. He was never a favorite of the party's conservatives, but some Republicans had hoped the son of Mexican American fieldworkers who went on to own a successful Central Coast farming operation had a life story that would help him appeal to Latino voters.
Less than seven months after being appointed lieutenant governor, he failed to retain the post in an election he lost to Gavin Newsom. In 2012, Maldonado sought unsuccessfully to unseat U.S. Rep. Lois Capps, a Democrat who has long represented the Santa Barbara area. He had made an unsuccessful bid for state controller in 2006.
Maldonado pledged to remain involved in public life but said he needed to spend time at home, working on his family ranch and helping his daughter launch a new family wine business.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times