Despite his advancing to a November runoff against Gov. Jerry Brown, it’s hard to find anyone who thinks Republican Neel Kashkari will be California’s next governor.
So, how do we quantify victory for Kashkari come November? Would it be progress only if he gets a higher percentage of the vote than the 42% Meg Whitman received in 2010? Maybe progress should be measured by whether or not he wins 30% of the Latino vote?
There is a strong case to be made that the state Republican Party has already punched above its political weight by nominating Kashkari. Though it remains unclear exactly what Kashkari stands for, it’s clear what he is not. He is not Tim Donnelly, and the California Republican Party, such as it is, affirmed this week that it is not Tim Donnelly’s party.
That flies contrary to the perception among many Californians, who see the state and national GOP as increasingly out of sync with their beliefs . Donnelly was still the odds-on favorite around the water coolers I frequent. I confess that when the Los Angeles Times poll emerged last week showing Kashkari running ahead of his more conservative challenger, I was skeptical. The numbers presented didn’t mesh with my personal hunch, and in this case, my hunch was wrong and the numbers were right.
So the GOP is not the party of the Minutemen. Great. Now it’s up to Kashkari to help define what the party is.
Clearly, Kashkari helps the business community feel at ease, and his win is a victory for the “GOP establishment,” the new catch-phrase of this election season. The national GOP civil war over the last decade has been between the Tea Party and the business community. The federal government was shut down despite strong objections from the United States Chamber of Commerce. Big business is what people mean when they say the Republican establishment, and Kashkari was and is the establishment candidate.
Kashkari has said rebuilding the party is among his top priorities. Other GOP statewide officials like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Steve Poizner quickly lost patience with this exercise. The party they wrestled with during the last decade would have never made the choice it did Tuesday night. Kashkari’s victory is a hopeful sign the party is ready to rebuild.
Though he is a political newcomer, Kashkari has an opportunity to help rebuild the party in his image. At the beginning of this campaign, Kashkari spent a lot of time talking about the millions of Californians still living in poverty. Our topline revenues are balanced, thanks to our high taxes on the wealthy and large number of rich people in the state. But just below the surface, there are signs of stress. Double-digit unemployment in inland areas. An estimated 11 million people on MediCal. Economic recovery in Latino and African American areas lagging far behind the white, affluent coastal regions.
As Kashkari found himself in a more traditional Republican primary, that message was pushed to the background. His primary triumph was rooted in a wood-chopping message of budget cuts and eliminating high-speed rail.
By Wednesday morning, he was back on poverty, moving toward the middle. Here’s hoping that continues. If Kashkari is able to focus on poverty in a thoughtful way, he may help shape not only his own party, but the Democrats as well.
It’s a lot to ask. Campaigns do not lend themselves to thoughtful conversations. But they can help focus the public. Any way that Neel Kashkari can push Brown to speak out and raise the alarm on issues effecting the poor – and begin a debate between the parties about how to solve those problems – will be a victory for millions of Californians, no matter what the final vote total.