Governor’s race: Maldonado drops out

Governor’s race: Maldonado drops out

Former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado ended his campaign for governor of California on Thursday morning, leaving a conservative state legislator as the only Republican candidate in the race. Maldonado, the state’s most prominent Latino Republican, made the announcement where his political career began at the Santa Maria City Hall.

“It’s time to step away for a while, and spend more time with my family and stay a little closer to home helping my community, as an active private citizen,” he said, according to his prepared remarks. “I know it’s cliché to say I am not running so I can spend more time with my family. Everybody says that. But the truth is, that is a major factor in my decision today.”

The son of an immigrant fieldworker turned mayor of Santa Maria, Maldonado has long been considered the Republicans’ best chance to reach out to the state’s growing Latino population, which is projected to become the state’s largest “race or ethnic group” in March. In 2000, although just a freshman state assemblyman, Maldonado was given a prominent speaking role at the Republican National Convention.

2009 tax vote damaged Maldonado’s rising star

Maldonado’s promising career stalled later in the decade with his 2009 vote for “the largest tax increase in California history.”

“It’s not surprising that Maldonado never caught fire with the voters on this campaign because of his deplorable record of raising taxes,” said Jon Fleischman, the publisher of the conservative website

In addition to struggling with the party’s conservative base, Maldonado’s candidacy failed to gain traction with the state’s top Republican donors. His last major campaign contribution reported to the Secretary of State’s Office occurred 60 days ago. According to campaign finance reports for the first half of 2013, the former state senator had raised $314,222, of which 60 percent had been spent on campaign consultants.

In September, Maldonado’s campaign went through a major staff shakeup as he ditched his expensive Washington D.C.-based campaign consultants in favor of a more grassroots operation that included Jimmy Camp, considered “one of the most highly respected Republican organizers in California.”

Tim Donnelly only GOP candidate now — but not for long

The announcement temporarily leaves Asm. Tim Donnelly, a favorite of the state’s Tea Party activists, as the only Republican challenger to Governor Jerry Brown. Donnelly, who thanked Maldonado for his years of service to the state, said that Maldonado’s decision provides voters with a stark contrast to Brown.

“With nearly 2 million Californians still out of work and California’s economy suffering, we remain focused on our message that’s resonating with voters – a real choice at the top of the ticket this fall,” Donnelly said. “Our goal in this primary has always been to clear the field, so that we can focus on our primary opponent, Jerry Brown. With the field narrowing, we intend to continue doing just that.”

However, Donnelly isn’t expected to remain the only Republican candidate for very long. Maldonado’s departure from the race could bolster the chances of moderate Republican Neel Kashkari, a former Bush administration Treasury Department official who managed the TARP financial bailout.

“I admire @abelmaldonado’s career of public service and know he has a lot more to contribute to California in the future,” Kashkari tweeted shortly after the announcement.

Kashkari, who is expected to formally announce his campaign soon, has made the state’s growing economic inequality a central theme of his tour throughout the state.

“Kashkari is packaging Republican issues in a way that’s designed to appeal to people who wouldn’t normally vote for Republicans,” observes UT San Diego columnist Steven Greenhut, who was impressed by Kashkari’s passion in a recent interview.

Jerry Brown well-positioned against all challengers

No matter which Republican candidate makes the November run-off, he is unlikely to defeat the Democratic incumbent. According to a Field Poll in December, Brown enjoys a 58 percent approval rating. By comparison, Brown’s predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger left office with an approval rating of just 22 percent.

Brown’s numbers are so strong that some have jokingly speculated that Brown could win a Republican Party primary. In the early 20th century, California gubernatorial candidates could run in both primaries.

“Ask yourself, if Jerry Brown, the powerful incumbent governor, were in a Republican primary today might he fare well against the Republican field?” posits Joel Fox, the editor of Fox & Hounds and president of the Small Business Action Committee. “The gubernatorial candidate many Republicans might think is the safest bet in the November election just may be Jerry Brown.”

Other candidates for governor include the Green Party’s Luis J. Rodriguez, who released a new campaign video Wednesday.

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