Abel Maldonado

Republican gubernatorial hopeful Abel Maldonado in a 2010 file photo. (Rich Pedroncelli / AP / February 11, 2010)

With the election for California governor more than a year away, it would seem early for a top contender to be coping with upheaval in his campaign.

But Republican hopeful Abel Maldonado said Friday that “it just wasn’t working” with the team he’d hired to run his uphill battle to unseat Democratic incumbent Jerry Brown.

“I think the signs of a good manager is making decisions to make some quick changes when things are not going in the right direction,” Maldonado said, putting the best spin he could on the departures of GOP campaign veterans John Weaver, Fred Davis and others.

“I knew that we were spending a lot more money than we were receiving, and I had to make some changes.”

This weekend, Maldonado, a former lieutenant governor from Santa Maria, is introducing his new team to Republican leaders at the state party’s convention in Anaheim. It includes former Newt Gingrich media adviser Rick Tyler, pollster Ed Goeas and former state GOP chairman Ron Nehring.

Party gatherings, dominated by staunch conservatives, are challenging venues for Maldonado, whose departures from ideological purity have strained his ties with the hundreds of Republican rank-and-file who attend.

He voiced regret for his pivotal 2009 vote as a state senator to raise taxes. He favors abortion rights and same-sex marriage, a turnabout from his support for Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that outlawed gay marriage in California but was overturned by the Supreme Court.

“I’ve had a change in heart,” he said in an interview.

Maldonado also backs a path to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally. He sees his Mexican ancestry as a key asset in a state where the rapidly growing Latino population has driven a two decades of defeats for Republicans.

“I think having a person that looks like me at the top of the ticket -- that looks like California -- is going to be good for the Republican Party,” Maldonado said as six top advisers, all white men, listened from spots around his hotel suite.
Money will pose a big challenge. Maldonado’s most recent finance statement showed his campaign just over $3,000 in debt at the end of June.

“Am I going to have the money that Jerry Brown has? No,” he said. “Because I’m not going to get the big checks from big business. I’m not going to get $2.5 million from big oil. I’m not going to get millions from big banks. I’ve got to go to the people.”

In his 2010 race for lieutenant governor, a position to which he was initially appointed, Maldonado, a rancher, finished more than 1 million votes behind Democratic rival Gavin Newsom.

His potential opponents in the 2014 primary include state Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, a tea party favorite, former Rep. George Radanovich of Mariposa, and Neel Kashkari, a former Goldman Sachs banker who has never run for public office.

But Maldonado is the Republican relentlessly skewered by Brown’s political team, on Twitter and elsewhere.

“Reality is he believes in nothing,” Brown political adviser Dan Newman said by email. “He's been on all sides of all issues because he has no real agenda beyond raw selfish ambition. That's why he's managed to do the impossible and unify people from across the political spectrum against his candidacy.”

 

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michael.finnegan@latimes.com