Eight men in sombreros played mariachi tunes Friday to warm up a lunch-hour crowd for Gov. Jerry Brown at a hotel off Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles. Latino lawmakers, gathered under a "Gracias Governor Brown" banner, heaped praise on him for signing bills to benefit immigrants.
A while later, Brown's Republican challenger, Neel Kashkari of Laguna Beach, spent four hours as guest host of the "John and Ken Show," a staple of conservative talk radio. Kashkari spent much of his time accusing Brown of squandering taxpayer money on high-speed rail, but he also took swipes at President Obama on Iraq and the IRS.
It was the first time since the June 3 primary that both gubernatorial rivals had made high-profile appearances in Southern California on the same day. It highlighted Brown's advantage in a contest in which demographics are strongly in his favor.
Brown's visit came a few hours after he signed a state budget that he portrayed as a model of fiscal discipline, an approach he has used to gain support, polls show, across a wide spectrum of voters.
It also stressed his overwhelming advantage among Latinos, a crucial voting bloc. A poll last month by The Times and USC's Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences found that 59% of Latinos backed Brown in the June 3 primary and 6% supported Kashkari.
At the El Pueblo de Los Angeles historical monument, Brown listened to young children sing "America the Beautiful" in Spanish. State Senate leader Kevin de León of Los Angeles and other legislators lauded his signing of bills to give driver's licenses to immigrants in the country illegally and to ensure overtime for domestic workers.
Brown reminded the crowd of his marches with farmworkers in the 1960s and suggested that California's steps on immigration would eventually serve as a model for Washington.
"They're dysfunctional," he said. "They're polarized. They're fighting. But the spirit of California is going to spread east.... We'll get not only a driver's license bill. We'll get a citizenship bill."
For his part, Kashkari, an assistant U.S. Treasury secretary under President Bush, joined a few of Washington's partisan squabbles on his KFI-AM radio gig. He faulted Obama for "huge foreign policy blunders," such as announcing in advance when U.S. military forces were going to leave Iraq.
"It's a pretty good signal to our enemies to hang on a little bit longer," Kashkari told listeners.
Kashkari also hammered the Obama administration over the loss of Internal Revenue Service emails sought by congressional investigators, the subject of a fierce confrontation Friday between IRS Commissioner John Koskinen and Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) at a hearing on Capitol Hill.
"I'm with Congressman Ryan on this," Kashkari said. He recalled learning at the Treasury Department to "never put something in an email because it can never be destroyed."
"It smells awfully fishy to me," Kashkari said.
Kashkari, who is trying to win over the many Republicans who backed his more conservative opponent Tim Donnelly in the primary, was most animated when he blasted Brown's bullet train project. The new budget allocates $250 million for the project from the state's cap-and-trade program, which charges fees to polluters who emit greenhouse gases above certain limits.
What that will mean, Kashkari argued, is higher gas prices for consumers.
"Your gas prices are going to go up to fund Jerry Brown's crazy train," he said.
He also told the rush-hour listeners that he resents spending $100 to fill the tank of his sport utility vehicle. "It really ticks me off," he said.