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Phantom Pols

GOP’s Mystery Man Battles, as State’s Ex-First Lady Vanishes


The scattering of Californians who tuned into the only debate between the candidates for governor — oh say, 12 or 13 of them — now command secret information the vast majority of state citizens does not.

They can tell you who the Republican candidate in the race is.

Seven weeks before the November 4 election, a new L.A. Times poll shows, just one in five state residents — and only one in four of likely voters — are aware the GOP challenger to incumbent Democratic Jerry Brown is former Bush administration bank bailout czar Neel Kashkari.

Jerry Roberts

“He doesn’t have much chance to win,” said Brown, in one of the great understatements of political history, of his nominal rival during their little-noticed first Thursday debate.

It’s hard to imagine a statewide clash for one of the major offices in the nation organized in ways less likely to generate interest than the spectral September 4 affair. Aired on the California Channel, the Sacramento-based, public-access outfit funded by cable companies, it took place in a studio so small that reporters covering the affair had to watch on TVs in another room. Also, scheduling the event to go nose-to-nose for ratings against the kickoff game of the NFL season was a logistical decision right up there with putting Michael “Snoopy” Dukakis in the tank.

STATE OF PLAY: All successful political campaigns have three key elements — money, organization, and message. Kashkari lacks the first two, but his fundamental problem is that the premise of his candidacy is flawed: He bashes Brown for doing a lousy job and argues that California is a mess, at a time when nearly 60 percent of voters give the governor positive marks for turning things around, and a steadily increasing minority say the state is on the right track.

The latest Field Poll shows Brown leading big among men, women, and white, black, Latino, and Asian Americans. Most importantly, as a political matter, he dominates among self-described moderates and independent, decline-to-state voters.

With Brown poised to win reelection by a margin that could put Kim Jong Un to shame, political hacks (we name no names) have taken to touting election bets, not on the result of the contest, but on the spread by which Kashkari will lose.

Morning line: Take Neel and 20 points.

WHY IT MATTERS: All that said, Kashkari’s campaign remains important as a measure of success for California Republican Party chair Jim Brulte’s effort to lead the state GOP out of the ideological wilderness and restore its relevance in the deep blue Golden State (The Santa Barbara Independent, March 20).

Kashkari’s debate performance was notable, not only for his threshold accomplishment of holding his own on the same stage with a vastly experienced governor, but also for introducing himself as a serious person whose beliefs on cultural issues, unlike the right-wingers who’ve recently dominated the GOP, comport with California’s political mainstream.

Among other things in the debate, he endorsed climate change science and gay marriage and stated a belief that Obamacare should be fixed, not junked. He also is pro-choice and stipulates that federal immigration reform should include a pathway to citizenship for those here illegally.

Along with Kashkari’s record in managing the federal government’s bank bailout, each of these stances is odious to the coalition of Tea Partiers, evangelicals, nativists, and Flat Earth Society types who have set the GOP’s hard-right course in recent years, embarrassing and purging moderates.

With a free-market, anti-tax platform, Kashkari nevertheless offers a clear contrast to Brown, with whom he clashed on substantive issues, from public school and pension reform to high-speed rail and banning plastic bags.

As a political matter, Kashkari can win the 2014 election by losing: running a thoughtful, respectable, stronger-than-expected race would instantly establish him as a Player in Republican politics and leave him well positioned for another run for governor or for the U.S. Senate.

Despite its logistical shortcomings, the one-hour debate was fast-paced, lively, intelligent, and worth watching, which you still can do HYPERLINK “http://www.calchannel.com/2014-gubernatorial-debate/” here.

MARIA SHRIVER IS MISSING: The weirdest Sacto story to surface since Shrimp Boy unfolded last week, when ex-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger returned to the town for the unveiling of his formal portrait, to hang in the Capitol with those of his predecessors.

Keen-eyed reporters, doubling as fine-art critics, noticed a small smudge in the painting, on the left lapel of the Terminator’s steel-blue suit. Seems the blot originally was a campaign-style button featuring a beaming Maria Shriver, the ex-gov’s ex, whom Arnold ordered excised from the picture.

The two famously split in 2011, following revelations that the Governator had a love child with the couple’s housekeeper. Matters doubtless grew more bitter amid recent reports that Shriver herself had carried on a secret affair with staff with her husband’s chief campaign strategist. Out damned spot, out I say.



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