Reports that Abel Maldonado fired his campaign team is welcome news.  Campaign shakeups are a game of sharp elbows.  But tales of Abel’s “reluctance” to raise money sound like the carping of pri-madonnas who expect the principle to keep the coffers full, so they can draw fat salaries even for grossly flawed work.  Maldonado’s disastrous anti-AB109 kickoff  (which took Brown to task for the court-ordered prisoner release program) was grossly flawed.  Now– free of “experts”– Maldonado has an opportunity to reshape his campaign and continue.  He should continue.  Vigorously.

Is Abel Maldonado’s run a joke as Joe Matthew’s opines?  Hardly!  Jerry Brown is riding a wave of popularity, good press (here and here) and good polling.  But with 13 months to the 2014 election Abel has a chance.

The Age Factor:  Brown is ancient timber physically: he will turn 76 before the 2014 season begins and has been treated for both prostrate and skin cancer.   But even if Brown is as hearty a septuagenarian as many claim, he will be over 80 at the end of a final term.

Will his brutal exercise regimen get the better of him?  Will cancer return?  Will Brown decide not to run?  Famously iconoclastic, he hasn’t gained the sobriquet “Moonbeam” for nothing.  Perhaps he will elect to study Zen rather than push the political boulder further up the hill.

Jerry’s “California Miracle”:  The political boulder– which Brown is moving along at a steady clip – might hit soggy ground.  If– as Republicans believe– the celebrated Jerry Brown Renaissance is largely a media myth; if important parts of the “miracle” collapse, Jerry might be tempted to quit.

Where are the fault lines in Jerry’s Renaissance?  There are many.

High Speed Rail:  Armchair Freudian’s have wondered if the HSR “legacy” project  is the son projecting himself against the titanic shadow of the father.  That may explain Brown’s stubborn refusal to see that HSR is in legal tatters and facing growing public resistance.  This is an issue tailor-made from Maldonado.

Were Abel to “invade” the upcoming high speed rail convention in Los Angeles with an anti-HSR message he could begin the argument against HSR in the “belly of the beast” of connected contractors, high power bureaucrats, Democratic pols, union bosses and wall-eyed utopians.

Were Abel to run a truly insurgent campaign, he might back Elon Musk’s Hyperloop alternative, at least by calling for a 2014 initiative to fund modest Hyperloop research while putting HSR on hold.

There is a CAGOP infrastructure play to be made.  A push for fiscally conservative infrastructure could rebrand the CAGOP from the “Party of No” to the party of practical visionaries.

Prison Realignment:  Although his operatives put Abel on stage with a Psycho-inspired graphic of a butcher knife and a Willie Horton image of a recidivist killer who was (whoops!) free from the taint of AB109, there remains a huge problem with prisons.   The play-to-the-base ginning up of the fear of crime was so old school, so prone to slurs against GOP “racism” as to be dangerously stupid, but smart solutions can be offered.

Prison issues are complex.  The realignment problem has moved into new territory since Abel embarrassed himself at the urging of incompetents.  The Steinberg vs. Brown compromise now in front of the courts may table the issue for three years.

Maldonado should “declare victory” on realignment and seize the high ground.  New policies emphasizing public safety,  sane anti-recidivism programs and  moral leadership is key.   He should abandon “lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key”  as  fiscally absurd given the costs of new prison construction, the cost of prison guard entitlement and the certainty of eventual release and recidivism.

Maldonado will be attacked– ruthlessly– for the butcher knife Willie Horton fiasco.  But a tack  away from the ham-handed initial outing towards the new conservative ideas which are out there will salvage his reputation.

Jerry vs. “Maldo” with Latinos.  Maldonado has a real heart and an authentic message for Latinos. In Spanish (see here) Abel’s tongue-twisted  malapropisms evaporate and he sells.  He doesn’t talk down to Latinos in Spanish.  He speaks from core experiences with an enthusiasm and directness that is infectious.

Jerry Brown vs. Abel Maldonado in the Latino community is a fight conservatives should want.  In one corner, Brown, a weirdly New Agey Old White Guy.  In the other corner, “Maldo,” a handsome young Latino strawberry farmer, a brown-skinned Mr. Smith Goes to City Hall type.  Among Spanish speaking voters, Brown’s trademark intellectual aggressiveness will play poorly compared to Abel’s naturalness and warmth.

“Maldo” has a unique opportunity to inspire and lead CA Latinos, demographically a majority in next year’s campaign.

If Abel’s managers segment the Latino electorate with sophistication, first building support within the natural base of small business owners, the educated and upwardly mobile, the long term citizens, etc. and then reaching to the fat part of the bell curve with policies and messages that bring newer immigrants and the working classes into the fold, he could do very well as the breakthrough Latino gubernatorial candidate in California.  Uniquely, Abel can appeal to a broad base of Latinos without pandering and or lurching into tax and spend imprudence.

Brown: Vulnerable on education.  Although media flacks tout Brown as the author of Prop 30, he was in fact only the last pol to have his fingers on the bill.

Prop 30 didn’t fix our broken education system, it only temporarily engorged the state treasury to pay union teachers.  The K-12 system breakdown is a made-for-Maldonado issue.

Abel is uniquely qualified to argue that  teachers are well paid while poor brown and black kids are mal-educated, creating lifelong cycles of poverty.  He has credibility as a Latino bootstrap kid.   Abel can propose solutions that are fiscally sound, maintain local control and still fix systemic problems.  He has credibility as a Republican.  Likewise he has credibility as a first-of-family Cal Poly graduate.  He only lacks a comprehensive education plan.  He might borrow Meg’s which was substantial.

The bottom line?

Abel Maldonado is the standard bearer for a new breed of pragmatic-conservative Republicanism taking shape behind the scenes in California.  At the Republican Reformers event last spring, the full panorama of possibility was evident.  Maldonado was there.  And so were many others with initiatives, nascent organizations, party elders, funders and candidates all working quietly n the trenches to rebuild a broken party.

As the gubernatorial candidate for this rump group of smart, dedicated reformers, Maldonado’s candidacy is not just important but potentially decisive.  If “Maldo” does well; if he holds high the banner for the larger group; if he fully articulates a comprehensive new political ideology for California; then his candidacy helps rebrand the CAGOP.  And even if he doesn’t win , he moves the ball forward for the larger movement while creating a future leadership role for himself.

It won’t be easy.  Abel Maldonado must run an insurgent campaign short on money and deep on new ideas, new blood and new energy.  He will need smart people crafting policy and message as well as committed donors and troops.

And of course, another rump group is about to take the field; Tim Donnelley and his band of merry Tea Party pranksters.  Donnelly vs. Maldonado is a national battle in microcosm, the subject of an essay to follow.