The audience reaction told the story: For Neel Kashkari, polite applause; for his GOP gubernatorial rival, Tim Donnelly, a prolonged roar of cheers.
With that, hundreds of Republicans wrapped up the state GOP convention near the San Francisco Airport on Sunday with a resounding – and unofficial – endorsement of Donnelly’s candidacy for governor on a tea party platform that has left some moderates squirming.
Kashkari, a Laguna Beach newcomer to California politics, has been collecting big-dollar donations from fellow investment bankers and other wealthy GOP donors to run a TV and mail campaign that he hopes will overcome Donnelly’s apparent grassroots support.
But Kashkari’s cool reception among party activists underscored the challenge he faces in his quest to be the Republican chosen by voters in June to challenge Gov. Jerry Brown’s bid for a fourth term in November.
Kashkari, who told the crowd of his upbringing as the son of Indian immigrants, is quickly becoming the most prominent public face of the state party’s effort to broaden its appeal beyond its core of white conservatives.
Duf Sundheim, a former state Republican Party chairman, said he was optimistic that the effort would bear fruit, but probably not before 2018. The national party’s sullied image among Californians, combined with Brown’s huge lead in campaign fundraising, will make it “extremely tough” to unseat the popular Democratic governor, Sundheim said.
“We don’t have a strong statewide ticket, unfortunately,” he said.