Stung by the refusal of two fellow Republicans to support his candidacy for governor, Neel Kashkari sought to put the controversy behind him Sunday with a fiery speech portraying his party as a champion of minorities and the poor.
“We don’t just fight for our own civil rights, we fight for the civil rights of all Californians and all Americans,” Kashkari, the son of Indian immigrants, told hundreds of cheering California Republican Party delegates gathered for their semiannual convention.
FOR THE RECORD:
Republican Party convention: An article in the Sept. 22 LATExtra section about Neel Kashkari’s speech at the California Republican Party convention said Pete Peterson, GOP candidate for secretary of state, was running against Democrat Betty Yee. In fact, Peterson is running against Democratic state Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima). Yee, a state Board of Equalization member, is running for controller. —
“So this is why I’m running,” Kashkari continued. “I’m running to reintroduce us to the people of California and the people of our country because I’m damn proud of who we are.”
Although he faces a steep uphill battle against Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, Kashkari appears to have increased his popularity among the GOP rank-and-file who attend party gatherings.
The crowd greeted his 15-minute speech Sunday with a standing ovation — a contrast to his tepid reception at the party’s spring convention.
Delegate Matt Kauble of Cerritos said he voted for Kashkari’s tea party rival, Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R-Twin Peaks), in the June primary but was impressed by Kashkari’s passion about relieving poverty and his desire to appeal to a multiracial audience.
“It’s the type of message that works well with swing voters,” Kauble said.
Still, Kashkari’s weekend was marred by the refusal of two other Republican statewide candidates on the November ballot to support him. Pete Peterson, who is running for secretary of state, argued that the state needed someone independent to run its elections.
Ashley Swearengin, running for controller, told reporters Friday that she hadn’t made up her mind between Kashkari and Brown because she hadn’t yet had a chance to meet with the Republican. State party chairman Jim Brulte labeled her strategy “Felony stupid” in an email exchange with other party members.
On Sunday, Tim Clark, her campaign consultant, said she would not endorse either gubernatorial candidate because a controller needs to be an “independent watchdog of the treasury.”
He acknowledged that Swearengin has endorsed Peterson in his race against state Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima).
Kashkari, in his remarks to delegates, highlighted the party’s role in opposing slavery and supporting the Civil Rights Act. And he talked about modern-day struggles such as a recent education controversy, in which he said Republicans sided with schoolchildren while Democrats — including Brown — sided with the teachers’ unions.
“When they said we don’t care about the poor, we don’t care about minorities, they have no idea what they’re talking about,” Kashkari said.
Some remained skeptical, such as Randall Jordan, a Paso Robles contractor who chairs the state GOP’s tea party caucus.
“I didn’t applaud” the Sunday speech, he said, noting that he disapproved of Kashkari’s leadership of the taxpayer-funded bank bailout and his 2008 vote for Democratic President Obama.
Kashkari is “a very nice guy,” Jordan said, “but I don’t think he has the same values as the conservatives of California have.”
The theme of expanding the party beyond its mostly older white core has been a constant in recent years, as the GOP’s power has waned in California. But the party continues to be hampered by a series of policy positions on issues such as gay marriage and abortion that are increasingly out of step with the views of California voters, a problem unmentioned throughout the weekend’s speeches.