Sunday, August 03, 2014

Race of the Day- California Governor

93 Days Until Election Day

Status: Democrat Incumbent
2012 Presidential Result: Blue State (West)

Outlook: Safe Democrat

The past few electoral cycles have seen some red states get redder and some blue states get bluer. That is certainly the case in the nation's most populous state. Democrats dominate California and in many ways, the state of California is one of the most crucial components of the Party. While the state was once regularly elected Republicans and was considered very competitive at all levels, GOP failures at the top profile races in the 2010 midterms have not contributed to any optimism about the Gubernatorial election this year.

However, Republicans in the Golden State believe they have a chance to win at least one statewide executive office, although that might still be an upset. They also believe that they can pick off a couple Congressional districts won by Democrats in 2012. The election for Governor is somewhat of a foregone conclusion, however Republicans avoided a scenario in which they could have been harmed further in their efforts to win down the ballot.

This is the first Gubernatorial election in California under the state's new and somewhat unique primary system. Opposed by both major parties, California voters had decided to enact a system in which all candidates appear together on the primary ballot. Then, the top two advance to the November election, regardless of their party. This has caused races in the state between two Democrats and two Republicans, even in districts where the other party might have had a shot at victory, as well as Independents beating out a major party in some places.

The primary was held in early June and it seemed obvious that a Republican would finish in second place and earn the right to face incumbent Democrat Jerry Brown for Governor in November. Many in the Tea Party were supporting conservative State Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, who had ties to the anti-illegal immigrant Minutemen in the state. While he might have had enough pockets of support to outpace other candidates, some thought he would be a controversial drag on the entire Republican ticket in the general election, energizing liberals and minority voters to come out and oppose the party, when they might otherwise be more apt to stay at home.

Donnelly would finish third in the open primary though, behind a Republican son of immigrants, whom establishment types were hoping to defeat him. Neel Kashkari's parents came to U.S. from India in the 1960s, and he is the first Hindu to be nominated for Governor. While other Indian-American Republicans have been successful in conservative southern Gubernatorial races, the task is much more difficult in California, where African-Americans, Latinos, and Asian-Americans have been voting overwhelmingly for Democrats. Still though, the 41 year old Kashkari, and his completely shaved head will probably help other Republicans running in the state.

Making his first run for office, Kashkari had become a wealthy investment banker and then took on a very unenviable role in the Bush Administration Treasury Department, administering the TARP program, after the financial markets meltdown in 2008. After that experience, he returned to the private sector and considered running for another statewide office in his adopted state of California before seeing an opportunity to run for Governor after other more well known Republicans declined.

Kashkari certainly represents a generational and stylistic split with his opponent, the 76 year old Democrat incumbent. In fact the only thing that Kashkari may have in common with Brown are their lack of hair. Brown has basically been around politics all his life, as his father served the Governor who defeated Richard Nixon and later lost to Ronald Reagan. Eight years later, Jerry Brown would succeed Reagan as Governor after the 1974 elections. While he was reelected in 1978, Brown would lose a 1982 Senate contest and was unsuccessful in seeking his party's Presidential nominations in 1976, 1980, and 1992.

A generation ago, Brown was looked upon as a liberal gadfly whose party had shifted away from his '60s style politics. The nickname "Governor Moonbeam" stuck for many years in regards to Brown just being considered weird. His political career certainly appeared over after losing to Bill Clinton in 1992, but he would make a comeback as an Independent to be elected Mayor of Oakland. The parlayed that to becoming Attorney General and then somewhat easily won a 2010 comeback for Governor in a race where Republicans had a top notch and wealthy nominee.

Brown is back serving as Governor after first winning the job 40 years ago. The state is not exactly easy to govern and even those living there realize that many things are not exactly on track regarding the state's finances but it is has just become so liberal on social wedge issues, that Brown will be almost impossible to dislodge. Amazingly, some on the left talk about Brown making another Presidential run, which would be a fourth attempt in four different decades (after taking one off). He would be approaching 80 years old if he were to do so though and might possibly find himself opposing Hillary Clinton. Brown made headlines in a 1992 debate when he attacked Bill Clinton for his wife's legal and business dealings in Arkansas, beginning a theme that Republicans would use against Hillary for years. However, I do not think Brown is going to run again for President. It would be entertaining if he did though.

While very far to the left across the board, I will note that Governor Brown has expressed reluctance to fully embrace the legalization of marijuana, which is gaining steam (or smoke?) in the state. He has said he has doubts about how California can be a great state with so many stoned people. I would suggest that might already be a problem.

There are probably tons of interesting anecdotes and angles to the Brown vs. Kashkari race, but despite his personal and political vulnerabilities, Brown is going to be able to win a fourth total term as Governor. Pockets of the state may lean conservative over economic issues, opposition to an increasing problem with illegal immigration, or serious water shortages, but the Bay Area and Los Angeles easily outvote the rest of the state and they like their government on the left side of the road.

A ton of ambitious Democrats might already be preparing to try to replace Brown in 2018 while a credible campaign and showing by Kashkari this year will open up opportunities for the Orange County resident to perhaps succeed politically in a lower level race sometime soon. The state is probably going to have to get even more messed up though before California voters decide to elect a Republican as Governor once again.

Kashkari campaign link:

Gubernatorial races predicted thus far: 1 D (1 Safe) , 4 R (1 Safe, 1 Likely, 2 Leans)
Overall totals predicted thus far: 8 D, 11 R (net Republican gain of 1)