Un-Abel To Go On

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Thursday’s big news in California political circles: former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado’s surprise decision to drop out of the 2014 governor’s race.

Actually, it wasn’t much of a surprise given Maldonado’s inability to gain traction in what otherwise is a wide-open competition for the runner-up spot in the June open primary (this is assuming California Gov. Jerry Brown, who’s yet to announce his intentions, does indeed seek re-election).

Here are three quick takeaways from Maldonado’s withdrawal:

1.   Money Is Still King. Of the three Republican hopefuls – Assemblyman Tim Donnelly is formally a candidate; investor and former Bush Treasury aide Neel Kashkari is about to jump in – Maldonado was the establishment candidate thanks to a long track record in state and local government. In theory, that gave him the inside track with California’s donor crowd. In reality, he couldn’t sell the brand. To borrow a line from The Right Stuff: “No bucks, no Buck Rogers”. The problem? The guess here:  Maldonado, though only 46 years old but with two losses to show in the last two election cycles, didn’t come across as a reassuring fresh face. The other factor: campaign disarray. Maldonado and a previous team of consultants parted ways in September. Add to the uncertainty in Maldonado 2014 Version 2.0: a message that ricocheted between nonpartisan inclusiveness and full-throttle bashing of Gov. Brown over prison realignment. In all, not a winning sell to donors.

2.   End of An Era. Maldonado’s political career stretches almost 20 years, from mayor of Santa Maria, to State Assembly/State Senate and, finally, an eight-month appointment as the state’s lieutenant general that ended with a November 2010 loss – just as a 2102 congressional run didn’t work out. It wasn’t that long ago that Republicans in the nation’s capital saw Maldonado as a big deal – a Republican “young gun”.  Years before that, he was Karl Rove’s idea of an upward Latino Republican to showcase. That’s over, even though Maldonado tried to soft-peddle this latest setback as a matter of “now is not my time”.  Also over: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s presence in California Republican circles.  Not only did the Governator’s lieutenant governor tank, but the Arnold connection seemingly didn’t have a tailwind effect in terms of donor crossover. To the extent there’s a Schwarzenegger connection to California’s 2014 election, it would be his brother-in-law Bobby Shriver running for Los Angeles county supervisor. Hasta la vista, recall?

3.   The Field. And then there were . . . two? With Maldonado now out of the picture, that leaves the field of GOP choices to Donnelly and Kashkari. That’s not exactly a position of strength for state Republicans. Donnelly, a gun-toting Minuteman once picked up in an airport for packing a weapon, will have a hard time getting by that story lead with independent voters who don’t like to go to political extremes. Kashkari, with little name recognition, needs to find creative ways to make news. Thus the race is take on Brown in November has room for new takers. With a filing deadline of March 7, there’s plenty of time for more twists and turns.

Follow Bill Whalen on Twitter: @hooverwhalen