Neel Kashkari is attempting a difficult task – and I’m not talking about his attempt to unseat a sitting governor and California political legend in Jerry Brown. Kashkari is attempting to steer the Republican ship toward center waters –where Brown rows his famous canoe – because he believes that is how the Republican Party becomes competitive in the state.
The Republican gubernatorial candidate dropped by my graduate public policy class at Pepperdine University Monday to chat with the students.
Kashkari said he set out to change the party’s image portrayed in the press as the Party of No. He didn’t see a bench to take on the challenge so he jumped in.
From Kashkari’s perspective, he thinks national Republican leaders are more closely following his efforts than California Republican leaders. He believes the national leaders hope that his approach will move California voters to consider Republican candidates. The mission he laid out is to re-introduce people to the Republican Party by emphasizing economic well-being and education.
To meet his goal, Kashkari visited with groups who traditionally support Democrats. He admitted he did not know how he would be received at African-American churches or by homeless advocates or by Latino organizations. But he said, it was important to go because he was “happy to learn.”
What he learned, he said, was that people want the same thing: good jobs and a good education.
Kashkari said he was determined not play the game of moving his positions to the right in the primary only to move back to the center for the general election, something he said caused problems for the last Republican gubernatorial candidate, Meg Whitman. He declared himself pro-immigration, pro- choice and pro-gay marriage during the primary.
Of course, there are those who argue that the Republican Party is faltering because candidates are softening positions and not being conservative enough.
Kashkari recognizes the internal party strife. While trying to recruit non-typical Republican voters he discovered his “biggest challenge” is dealing with discouraged Republicans who have simply given up.
When asked about the negative stories coming out of the Republican convention about disunity and lack of endorsements for him from some statewide Republican candidates, he said he understands that when a ship is foundering people run for the lifeboats.
His greatest challenge and historic success may not be in unseating Jerry Brown – as huge as that would be – but to keep Republicans on board and away from the lifeboats so they will continue to crew the ship.