Kashkari flails as campaign goes under

Republican candidate for California governor Neel Kashkari
Republican candidate for California governor Neel Kashkari The Associated Press

For a while now, Neel Kashkari has been all but screaming “Mayday” in his losing battle to unseat Jerry Brown.

Still, his latest ad, forcing us all to watch a child’s near-drowning, offers another reminder of how far a campaign can fall.

In “The Right Stuff,” Tom Wolfe relays an anecdote about a fighter pilot whose plane is about to be shot down.

“I’ve got a MiG at zero! A MiG at zero!” the pilot shouts into the radio. A voice responds: “Shut up and die like an aviator.”

Neel Kashkari, in a tailspin as he tries to unseat Gov. Jerry Brown, has put out a new television commercial featuring him saving a submerged and flailing child from from swimming pool. Kashkari’s point? He’s saving kids from the issues raised by Vergara vs. California. In Vergara, a judge declared unconstitutional state teacher tenure laws. The state has appealed the decision; Kashkari is trying use that appeal to suggest the governor is abandoning public school children.

In the 30-second spot, the wet, shaking child is saved by the purple polo-shirted GOP candidate, who, oddly, doesn’t actually get any water on his shirt. The boy sits beside Kashkari, who implies Brown would have let the waif die. It’s revolting. And sad.

Kashkari’s campaign commenced nicely. A smart, charismatic and youthful new Republican, Kashkari began talking about jobs and education, both worthy and obvious issues for him. He addressed poverty in California, absolutely legitimately, as this state suffers from a poverty rate reaching 25 percent. He marched in a gay pride parade, quite unusual for a Republican running for high office.

But in August, the wheels came off the Kashkari campaign. He went to Fresno for week, carrying $40 in his pocket while pretending to be homeless, camera crew in tow. Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, the GOP’s candidate for controller, was offended and has cut him loose; she won’t even say if she’s voting for him.

In his Sept. 4 debate with Brown, Kashkari turned in a credible performance, though his poll numbers didn’t budge. Kashkari all but flatlined in the polls last month. Now, that it’s October and Election Day is three weeks away, he is pretending to be a lifeguard.

California voters have seen it all over the years, from Richard Nixon calling his opponents pinkos, to action hero/weightlifter Arnold Schwarzenegger announcing for governor on the “Tonight Show.” He followed up by calling legislators “girlie men.” The list goes on, sadly.

Kashkari might have established a new nadir in California politics: a commercial so dumb, pandering and sickening that even the most jaded voter would turn their heads away in disgust.

Kashkari has squandered an opportunity to run a credible, interesting campaign against Brown, who should face tough questioning. Kashkari might have a future, but with this ad, a pitiful plea for attention, he is frittering away a chance to win election two or four years from now.

Kashkari’s talents are obvious, but the way he has employed them has been, at best, a disappointment and disservice.

We hear Kashkari calling out now in his spiraling plane. He ought to display a little dignity as he goes down.