BURLINGAME, Calif. -- The audience reaction told the story: For Neel Kashkari, polite applause; for his GOP gubernatorial rival, Tim Donnelly, a prolonged roar of cheers.
With that, hundreds of Republicans wrapped up the state GOP convention near the San Francisco Airport on Sunday with a resounding – and unofficial – endorsement of Donnelly’s candidacy for governor on a tea party platform that has left some moderates squirming.
Kashkari, a Laguna Beach newcomer to California politics, has been collecting big-dollar donations from fellow investment bankers and other wealthy GOP donors to run a TV and mail campaign that he hopes will overcome Donnelly’s apparent grassroots support.
But Kashkari’s cool reception among party activists underscored the challenge he faces in his quest to be the Republican chosen by voters in June to challenge Gov. Jerry Brown’s bid for a fourth term in November.
Kashkari, who told the crowd of his upbringing as the son of Indian immigrants, is quickly becoming the most prominent public face of the state party’s effort to broaden its appeal beyond its core of white conservatives.
Duf Sundheim, a former state Republican Party chairman, said he was optimistic that the effort would bear fruit, but probably not before 2018. The national party’s sullied image among Californians, combined with Brown’s huge lead in campaign fundraising, will make it “extremely tough” to unseat the popular Democratic governor, Sundheim said.
“We don’t have a strong statewide ticket, unfortunately,” he said.
Supporters of Donnelly, whose conservative stands on abortion, immigration and guns could pose obstacles in a statewide election, suggested that Kashkari faces big challenges of his own, such as his vote for Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential race.
“In an anti-Obamacare year, we’re going to have someone who voted for him at the top of the ticket? I don’t see how that works either,” said Mike Spence, president of Conservative Republicans of California.
In remarks to convention delegates on Sunday morning, Kashkari called on the party to unite behind his plans to create jobs, improve education, expand the state’s water storage and cancel Brown’s high-speed rail project.
“We, as Republicans, are really good at shooting at one another,” Kashkari said. “The Democrats stand back, they wait until we’re done firing, and they steamroll us. If we are united, we can go take the fight to Sacramento.”
The crowd gave Kashkari a friendly round of applause. But when his rival was introduced a while later, Republicans got to their feet, burst into cheers of “Tim! Tim! Tim!” and waved red, white and blue Donnelly for Governor signs.
Donnelly told the audience he was one of 14 kids who grew up in a four-bedroom house in Michigan, drove to California in a VW Bug and went into the plastics manufacturing business.
“Then, along came the government,” Donnelly said. A collective groan rumbled across the ballroom.
“The government regulated me out of business by driving my customers out of the state,” he continued. “And you know what? I want my state back. I want my freedom back.”
tty. Gen. Kamala Harris will launch reelection campaign Wednesdaymichael.firstname.lastname@example.org
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