With a bag of Doritos in hand, Neel Kashkari, the Republican candidate for governor, looks into a web video camera and makes what he calls a major announcement: The California college student who makes the best TV ad for his campaign will win a $25,000 scholarship.
“We need your creativity,” Kashkari says.
He also needs the cheap labor.
With just over six weeks until voters start casting ballots by mail, Kashkari has collected only about $800,000 for his longshot bid to unseat Gov. Jerry Brown in November's general election.
The Democratic incumbent has banked close to $23 million.
The scholarship competition, based on Frito Lay’s contest for the best amateur Doritos commercial to air during the Super Bowl, is Kashkari’s latest effort to make the most of his limited resources.
He has capitalized on the willingness of radio personalities to give him hours of free air time as a guest host. And he spent a week living as a homeless person on the streets of Fresno to highlight his stands on poverty and jobs.
“We’re looking for every creative way to get our message out,” Kashkari, a former assistant U.S. Treasury secretary, said in an interview.
Kashkari’s difficulty introducing himself to California voters has been a boon to Brown, who has all but ignored his opponent, lest he draw more than minimal attention to him.
Asked to comment on Kashkari’s scholarship contest, Brown campaign spokesman Dan Newman emailed: “No thanks.”
Kashkari paid the consulting firm of political strategist Todd Harris to produce the lone ad he could afford to air during the spring primary. It featured Kashkari chopping a toy train in half with an axe to symbolize his pledge to kill Brown’s high-speed rail project.
During the primary, Kashkari, who lives in Laguna Beach, sustained his campaign by spending more than $2 million of a personal fortune that he has pegged at less than $5 million. “I’m limited to what resources I have,” he said in the interview.
Kashkari gave students until Sept. 24 to produce their 30-second spots in high-definition video. He plans to post the ads of up to five finalists on YouTube before picking the winner by Oct. 6 – the day voting by mail begins.
He called on students to come up with ads that reflect his campaign themes of jobs and education or “highlight a need for change” – an apparent euphemism for spots attacking Brown.