“An Urgent Warning from Gov. Pete Wilson about Candidate Tim Donnelly” screams the black and red front page of the least subtle campaign flyer of this cycle.  Inside Republicans are told about GOP gubernatorial candidate Donnelly’s criminal past: “Donnelly is Currently on Probation,” along with helpful headlines like “Tim Donnelly appears to have larceny conviction in past”.  And for good measure the piece includes a stern warning from senior GOP Congressman Darrell Issa (R-Vista) that Donnelly is unfit to hold any office anywhere.  The piece also includes a pitch for his opponent, businessman Neel Kashkari, from national Republican leaders

Yet Donnelly led for the Republican slot in every poll for governor until this Sunday when a Los Angeles Times poll suggested that Kashkari, his establishment backed rival, may have caught up with him.  The race is close and this primary will tell whether there even still is a Republican Party left in California.

“With Tim Donnelly on the ballot, it would be a losing campaign, risking injury to our party and our state, and to other Republican candidates who deserve to win,” Wilson warns voters.  He echoes GOP guru Karl Rove who said that if, “the leading statewide candidate on the ballot this year (is) somebody who has said the outrageous things that he’s said and (is) prone to the outrageous behavior that he routinely engages in, it will be used to tarnish not only the California Republican Party but they’ll throw it at everybody else on the ballot.”

It does not take much analysis to see that they are right.  Donnelly’s claim to fame is a Minuteman leader who has called for a war with Latinos over immigration.  “We are in a war. You may not want to accept it, but the other side has declared war on us”, Donnelly told a Minuteman rally at the Mexican border in 2006.

So there is no doubt that Donnelly would bring out a huge turnout of straight ticket voting Latino Democrats.  There is almost no ticket splitting left in California so even the strongest Republican candidates would simply be swamped by Democratic votes.  Four GOP-held Congressional districts are on the Democratic radar, those of GOP Reps. Jeff Denham and David Valadeo, and the open Buck McKeon and Gary Miller districts – all four would be lost as the Latino base in those districts is large.  Republican challengers to newly elected Democratic congressmen and legislators all would fail, and the GOP would lose more of  its own incumbents, opening the way for massive Democratic tax increases in 2015.

Donnelly had no ability to raise funds, an absolute prerequisite to campaign effectively in California.  In fact, his campaign manager quit in disgust last spring; and he had no media operation, no formal campaign organization, no nothing.  Were he to end up running against Gov. Jerry Brown, Democrats would just pick him apart while tying every GOP candidate to his hopeless cause.

But the worst thing for California Republicans is that the donor class would just walk away – they pretty much already have.  Business now spends its money trying to elect pro-business Democrats.  If Donnelly gets the runoff spot to go up against Brown, donors will just kick the last remaining bit of the GOP carcass over the cliff.

It took a long time for Republican leaders to wake up to the deadly threat Donnelly poses to the GOP’s very existence, too long actually.  But one should not criticize wisdom for coming late for too often it does not come at all.  Until two weeks ago, it looked as though Kashkari, the sole legitimate GOP opponent to Donnelly, would just be hung out to dry.  Now some people have looked at the electorate and awakened to the damage Donnelly could do.

The Orange County Register had an interesting article last week on the GOP decline in its once conservative bastion of Orange County, where the party’s share of registration has fallen by a dozen points in recent years.  The Republicans have disappeared in many parts of California such as Silicon Valley and suburban Los Angeles, and demographic changes suggest that Orange County is next.  “Over the past 20 years, Democrats have gained ground on Republicans in every Orange County city except tiny Los Alamitos.  And indications are that the trend will continue unless the GOP can find a way to connect with Latinos and young voters,” the Register wrote.

In 2010, any chance of Meg Whitman being elected governor ended when she was forced by her primary opponent to take a hard line on immigration reform.  The Latino turnout that fall was historic, and went straight Democratic.  Try to imagine the Latino turnout this year if it is Donnelly.  But Kashkari actually has an opportunity to snag some middle class Latino and Asian voters since he has not been forced to play the immigrant bashing game.  And there is a Republican case to make to young voters since job growth in California, even for college graduates, is well behind the national average.

But none of those opportunities will open up if Kashkari does not beat Donnelly in the primary.  Belatedly Republicans leaders wised up to Donnelly’s threat to their party, and have tried to expose his mind boggling defects to Republican voters.  Now the question is, did their wisdom come in time or did it come too late?