No candidate likes to admit in October that he has virtually no chance to win the office he’s running for. So it is today with Neel Kashkari, the Republican nominee – read: sacrificial lamb – who is Gov. Jerry Brown’s reelection opponent.
But occasionally a seemingly sure loser shows enough fire and grit to establish himself or herself as a force to be reckoned with in the future. An example is Dianne Feinstein, then the Democratic mayor of San Francisco, who ran a fierce but losing campaign for governor against Republican Pete Wilson in 1990. Her effort demonstrated statewide appeal; she handily won a seat in the U.S. Senate two years later and has outlasted Wilson by more than a decade.
Kashkari now trails Brown by about 22 points in the polls, one of which indicated that just six weeks before Election Day, his name was recognized by only about 25 percent of Californians.
This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because Kashkari is so far behind in the polls, big campaign donors don’t put much money behind him, which assures that he can’t run many television ads, thus keeping him relatively unknown.
But Kashkari evinces no discouragement over his situation, insisting he’s gaining ground all the time. “In early March I was at 2 percent in the polls,” he said in an interview. “Now I’m at 34 percent in the polls. Brown is stuck at about 50 percent and more people in the polls say California is on the wrong track than the right one.” Actually, Brown was at 57 percent in one recent survey, 54 in another, both figures topping his performance in the June primary election.
But Brown, well known to 84 percent of Californians asked to identify him in one survey, has yet to spend much of his $20 million-plus war chest on television, at a time when he was advertising heavily four years ago in his race against self-funded Silicon Valley billionaire Meg Whitman. In fact, he indicates he may spend some of his money furthering the Proposition 1 water bond with which he and Kashkari share the fall ballot.
None of this fazes Kashkari. Little does. When two of his fellow Republican candidates for statewide office refused to endorse him during the party’s fall convention, he responded with a fiery speech calling Brown “coddled.” He insisted the GOP is the better party for immigrants, despite its firm opposition to amnesty for illegal immigrants, even children whose lives are in danger if forced to return home. He’s also called Brown “lazy” and “a creature of the status quo.”
“I clobbered him in our debate,” Kashkari claimed, even though most analysts rated it a draw. “I’m using innovative tactics, too.” One was posing for a week as homeless and unemployed in Fresno to dramatize the plight of California’s poor, whom Kashkari says Brown steadily fails to help. “That shattered Brown’s myth of the California comeback,” he said.
And Kashkari thinks the race will tighten, as elections often do in late October, when voters begin to pay attention.
All this demonstrates the dogged quality of Kashkari, who began the year as a primary election underdog well behind far-right Assemblyman Tim Donnelly of Twin Peaks, and then surpassed him despite the unpopularity of the bank bailouts he helped design while a U.S. Treasury official at the height of the last recession.
Does this mean he might run for one of the two California seats in the U.S. Senate due to come open if either Barbara Boxer (term up in 2016) or Feinstein (2018) opts to retire?
“In all honesty, I’ve never ruled out any of those opportunities,” said Kashkari, who appears to love campaigning and might just keep going like a battery bunny if defeated this fall. “Right now, I’m 100 percent focused on November.”
But if or when he wakens on Nov. 5 as something other than the governor-elect, bet on Kashkari starting right in on his next effort. Which means that win or lose, Californians have probably not seen the last of Kashkari. And his independence from Republican dogma on issues like abortion and poverty might just give him a better chance than any Republican Senate candidate of the last 20 years.