GOP gubernatorial hopeful Neel Kashkari made his Sacramento debut yesterday before the Sacramento Press Club, a regular ritual for aspiring governors.  He was articulate and informed, and certainly has done his homework on California issues.  But are his issues those of California Republican voters who will decide whether he advances to the runoff against Gov. Jerry Brown?

Kashkari’s themes center on income inequality, not an issue that immediately moves GOP voters.  He does frame this in economic terms; we cannot close the income inequality gap without economic growth and improved schools.  But most Republicans who will be voting in June don’t have kids in school and many have fled to exurban gated communities to escape California’s economic woes.  This is not an approach that wins primaries.

Kashkari is on firmer ground opposing Brown’s “crazy train” that seems in terminal collapse anyway, and he makes the point that people do not worry about travelling from Los Angeles to San Francisco; they worry that they cannot get around freeways in their own communities.  He’s also gone to the Central Valley, and makes the sound point that droughts will happen and we need to prepare for the future with more water storage.

But he does hit hard at California’s decline from the first Jerry Brown years by showing where we ranked as state in 1980 when  Brown was first governor (11th best educated workforces in the nation) and where we rank now (among the poorest educated workforces and number one in poverty).

This will appeal to Republicans who will vote in June (older and whiter) and who pine for a California of white picket fence neighborhoods that they remember from their youths.  Much of the anti-immigration bias that is strong among older Republicans comes from the notion that all these new arrivals are somehow responsible for the state’s decline when you can make a much better case that it is government policy itself.

But Kashkari needs to better refine this message and put in generational terms that Republicans will understand.  Why is it that your grandchildren will not lead as good a life as you do?  The fault lies in an educational establishment that feeds its own bureaucracy and resists education reforms like charter schools that threaten that bureaucracy, and a state government that is perfectly happy to see jobs shipped to Texas and to China.

Kashkari made the rather striking claim that Jerry Brown has destroyed the middle class in California, but without offering specifics.  Indeed it was Jerry Brown that gave public employees bargaining rights and that has led the all powerful labor political machine that now owns the Democratic Party and has imposed on Californians billions in unfunded public employee pensions that will be paid in future decades by the shrinking California middle class.  Polling shows that Republicans understand this and are very sensitive to the way labor now runs roughshod in this state.  The recent San Diego mayor’s election showed Republicans will turn out to trim labor’s appetite for more power.

Assemblyman Tim Donnelly is Kashkari’s main Republican opponent, and having no money and no source of raising major campaign funds seems bent on making news with outrageous statements.  That may work if it is all Republicans hear.  For instance, Donnelly recently compared President Obama to Hitler in his support for gun controls.

So now the race is set, and Kashkari has the issues to get him into runoff if he can connect with Republicans voters.  If he does not, Donnelly will give journalists plenty of fun things to write about over the coming months.