They are not likely to win this year, but the California Republican Party has several candidates for statewide office who are lighting the way to a potential GOP revival down the road.
Neel Kashkari, Pete Peterson and Ashley Swearengin are relatively young, accomplished, articulate and moderate. They understand that hard-right bombast doesn’t work in a state in which less than 30 percent of voters call themselves Republicans and moderate independents hold the balance of voting power.
They shun the anti-everything (immigrant, abortion rights, taxes) positions that many Republicans reflexively adopt, but that those independents reject, and embrace the pro-business, make-government-work-better attitudes that have worked for previous Republican winners.
Peterson, executive director of Pepperdine University’s Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership, is running for secretary of state, while Swearengin, mayor of Fresno, wants to become state controller, and both are likely to survive the top-two primary and make the November runoff.
Kashkari, who ran the federal government’s TARP bank bailout program, is locked in a fierce primary duel with Tim Donnelly, a very conservative state assemblyman, for the right to challenge Gov. Jerry Brown.
Donnelly is off the wall in his condemnation of immigrants, his opposition to banning Confederate flags from being sold in state shops and, most recently, his suggestion (later withdrawn) that Kashkari, son of Indian American immigrants and a Hindu, had embraced Islamic Shariah law – but he has been leading Kashkari in the polls.
California Republican Party leaders clearly fear that in next month’s primary, Donnelly could become the party’s official candidate and make it an international laughingstock.
Therefore, without formally endorsing Kashkari, they want him to win the primary, while fully aware that he has almost no chance of unseating Brown.
It’s not hyperbole to say that the future of the Republican Party in the nation’s largest state is hanging in the balance.
The party is very close to hitting bottom, and whether it recaptures some relevance or fades into total obscurity may depend on its fielding a plausible array of candidates this year.
Conversely, of course, Democrats would like nothing better than Brown’s running up a historic landslide over Donnelly in November, thus graphically demonstrating their complete dominance of the state.
Such dominance would not be healthy. No competition means that the narrow interests allied with the dominant party can have their way, regardless of the effect on the larger welfare of the state. And one-party rule of any political system invites the sort of self-serving arrogance that has landed three Democratic state senators in the criminal courts just this year.
Dan Walters is a columnist for the Sacramento Bee. Reach him as [email protected]