SANTA MARIA -- Abel Maldonado, whose campaign for governor sputtered for months, inspiring neither rank-and-file Republicans nor party donors, dropped out of the race Thursday.
The announcement ended weeks of speculation about the former lieutenant governor’s political future. After heavily promoting the relaunch of his campaign last fall, Maldonado faded from public view. It had been nearly two months since he last reported receiving a major contribution.
Maldonado, choking back tears at a news conference in Santa Maria, said he was quitting the campaign to spend more time with his family.
“Now is my time to step away and stay home,” he said at the event in his hometown.
Maldonado’s exit leaves Twin Peaks Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, a more conservative candidate, as the only Republican actively campaigning against Gov. Jerry Brown.
Neel Kashkari, a former U.S. Treasury Department official, is likely to declare his candidacy soon. Laguna Hills Mayor Andrew Blount has said he is considering running.
No Republican is expected to unseat Brown in this heavily Democratic state, but Maldonado was once thought likeliest to advance to the runoff against him in November.
Many Republicans believed fielding Maldonado, a moderate Latino, could improve the diminished party’s standing with Latino voters in an increasingly diverse state.
But Maldonado’s support for temporary tax increases while in the Legislature alienated many conservatives, and his campaign was damaged by missteps from the start. When he announced a ballot initiative last year to repeal California’s prison realignment program, Maldonado highlighted a menacing photograph of an offender who was not released under the new law.
Then, after finishing the first half of last year in debt, Maldonado and his original team of advisers split. Maldonado assembled a new group of advisers, including Ron Nehring, the former California Republican Party chairman, and he presented the team at the state party’s convention last fall.
In exiting the race, Maldonado records his third straight political failure. The former state lawmaker lost his campaign for a seat in Congress in 2012 and, two years before that, his bid to keep his appointed post as lieutenant governor.
The prospects of his realignment initiative also appear dim. No initiative has been filed, and Maldonado sidestepped a question about its future at his news conference Thursday.
“It just needs support,” he said, “and I hope we can get that in the future.”
Brown has not yet said if he is seeking re-election, but the third-term Democrat is raising millions of dollars for the campaign and is widely expected to run.
John Burton, chairman of the California Democratic Party, said in a prepared statement that Maldonado “saw the writing on the wall and did the smart thing.”
Donnelly, the Legislature’s most outspoken advocate for gun rights and against illegal immigration, has struggled to raise money and attention outside of his legislative district. He took Maldonado’s announcement as an opportunity, pouncing even before Maldonado finished giving his withdrawal speech.
“Our goal in this primary has always been to clear the field so that we can focus on our primary opponent, Jerry Brown,” Donnelly said in a prepared statement. “With the field narrowing, we intend to continue doing just that.”
Maldonado said he is not going to run for any other office this year. He said he is looking forward to spending time with his family and gathering support for conservative causes as a private citizen.
“I’m going to be involved,” he said. “It’s just going to be in a different capacity.”
Call David Siders, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1215. Follow him on Twitter @davidsiders.