Tea party candidate in Calif. governor's race takes Hollywood

Tea party candidate in Calif. governor's race takes Hollywood
Gubernatorial candidate Tim Donnelly, with wife, Rowena, and son, Daniel, casts his vote at Lake Arrowhead Country Club on Tuesday. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Candidates rarely appear at their campaign headquarters before the polls close, but tea party favorite Tim Donnelly has taken pride in bucking the establishment and its customs at every turn in his quixotic bid for governor of California.

He showed up on stage at his party at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood on Tuesday night to cheer supporters, who hope he can pull ahead of GOP rival Neel Kashkari to take on Gov. Jerry Brown this fall. In early returns, Kashkari was a distant second to Brown with Donnelly trailing in third.

"We have an opportunity here tonight to take back California, and it's all thanks to you and your hard work," Donnelly said to a cheering crowd in the hotel's "Academy" room. "We are going to put California back on a pathway to liberty and freedom and opportunity. But we're going to do it a different way, because we're going to walk California, community to community, just like we did to get to this point.

"I can't wait to hear how many Californians join us in this great cause. Because the cause is not electing Tim Donnelly for governor, the cause is liberty," he said in his brief speech.

For the state assemblyman, Tuesday night's choice of the Roosevelt Hotel was an unlikely one. His guests – many of whom were wearing black "Got Liberty" t-shirts – stood in stark contrast to the tourists milling outside on Hollywood's Avenue of the Stars. Outside the hotel on the night of this very low-key primary, a snapback-wearing crowd gripped movie posters as they waited for Tom Cruise to pop out of a nearby building to sign autographs.

The Inland Empire candidate from Twin Peaks, whose campaign slogan is "Patriot not Politician," has staked his campaign on his outsider credentials, and his supporters consider it a badge of honor that Kashkari will likely outspend him by more than 10 to 1. He has drawn the most attention for his hard line on immigration issues — one reason Kashkari has tried to brand him as an extremist — and for his 2012 arrest for taking an unregistered handgun through security at Ontario International Airport.

The Roosevelt Hotel has most often made headlines with star-studded Hollywood parties, like Miley Cyrus's wild birthday bash, and paparazzi-hunted guests like Lindsay Lohan, who was once a regular at the hotel's Teddy's nightclub.

Still the low-budget nature of Donnelly's was evident at his party on the hotel's mezzanine level. An hour before the first guests arrived, volunteers struggled to hang the campaign banner behind the podium with blue plastic tape. But his supporters said it is his very defiance of big money that have endeared him to many California Republicans.

"I'm confident because this man speaks from his heart. He's sincere and he's a straight shooter," said 80-year-Helen Peck of Ventura, who met Donnelly with her husband, William, through their involvement in the Minutemen (Donnelly founded a chapter of the volunteer border patrol group). "That's what California badly needs. We need honest people."

Donnelly had led Kashkari in early polling, but appeared to be sliding behind the former Treasury Department official as he unleashed a blitz of ads and mailers in the final stretch.

In this weekend's USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll that showed Brown with a commanding lead over all the candidates, Kashkari was a distant second with the support of 18% of likely voters, compared to 13% for Donnelly. Kashkari also held a double-digit edge among Republican voters who said they were likely to vote Tuesday.

Peck, a retired nurse, said Kashkari's final push of ads and mailers showed a "devious" streak that she said would turn off general election voters. "He put out things that were pretty low, half-truths, and made it look like this man [Donnelly] was a real criminal."

The couple said they would both stay home this fall if Kashkari won. "Might as well vote for Brown," 81-year-old William Peck said.

But a Brown vs. Donnelly race?

"David and Goliath," Helen Peck replied.

"The grassroots are the slingshot," William Peck added. "That's what David had. I just think it would be a great debate."