In a low-dollar California governor’s race, advertising pushes Neel Kashkari ahead of Tim Donnelly

06/04/2014 6:00 PM

10/08/2014 11:59 AM

Neel Kashkari’s campaign for governor was on the brink of irrelevance two months ago.

He was polling at 2 percent. His fundraising had fallen off, and Tim Donnelly, his tea party-backed rival, was pummeling him with the GOP’s rank and file.

At party gatherings across the state, Kashkari was skewered by conservatives for his vote for Barack Obama in 2008 and for his management of the $700 billion bank bailout known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP.

But statewide elections are typically won on television and in the mail, and Kashkari had resources Donnelly couldn’t match.

In the final weeks of the campaign, Kashkari poured $2 million of his own money into the race, while establishment Republicans such as former Gov. Pete Wilson and strategist Karl Rove warned publicly that Donnelly would drag the Republican Party’s image down.

In an unusually low-profile gubernatorial election, the effort was enough.

“For most Republican voters, if they heard from anybody, they heard from Kashkari, and in a vacuum a little means a lot,” said Jack Pitney, a government professor at Claremont McKenna College. “If Donnelly had been able to raise some money, the outcome might have been quite different.”

By mid-May, Kashkari, a former U.S. Treasury Department official, had cut into Donnelly’s lead in public opinion polls, and by the weekend a USC/Los Angeles Times poll showed him in front. On election night, Kashkari emerged about 4 percentage points ahead of Donnelly, surviving a bitter, intraparty primary fight to advance to a runoff against Gov. Jerry Brown in November.

Kashkari’s success relieved members of the party’s professional and political classes, who feared the potential impact of Donnelly on the party’s effort to improve its standing with minorities and young voters. Kashkari and his supporters tore into Donnelly for his behavior and controversial remarks about immigration, guns and Islamic law.

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