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Tim Donnelly’s ‘Path to Victory’ ignores obstacles

Conservative Republican Assemblyman Tim Donnelly’s gubernatorial campaign floated a memo Thursday outlining a “path to victory” in which incumbent Gov. Jerry Brown and moderate Republican challenger Abel Maldonado cancel each other out.

Tim DonnellyThe memo by Donnelly spokeswoman Jennifer Kerns insists Brown will have a tough record to run on, given that about 2 million Californians remain unemployed and the state now tops the nation in poverty.

“Meanwhile, after suffering a mass exodus of his campaign staff, liberal republican Abel Maldonado has been attempting to re-fashion himself as a pro-tax, pro-gay marriage, pro-illegal immigration supporter – positions which are largely out-of-step with the mainstream of the Republican Party,” the memo said. “Tim Donnelly, on the other hand, has clearly defined where he stands on the issues and hasn’t wavered in those positions.”

And next year will be California’s first gubernatorial election subject to the new top-two primary system, in which candidates of all parties compete in the same primary and the top two vote-getters advance to November’s general election regardless of party.

“With very little marketplace differentiation between presumed candidate Jerry Brown and Abel Maldonado, it clears a path for Tim Donnelly to claim his place among the top two finishers,” the memo said. “Why would a Republican vote for Abel Maldonado, when his positions aren’t that divergent from Jerry Brown’s?”

I’m not sure I buy that. But even if Donnelly were to finish in the top two, it’s hard to see how he could prevail in a general election against Brown or even against Maldonado.

California’s electorate as of February was 44 percent Democrats, 29 percent Republicans and 21 percent nonpartisan, so any statewide candidate needs to reach far, far beyond the GOP base in order to win. Donnelly is a staunch gun-rights advocate, abortion-choice opponent and former Minuteman anti-immigration activist, and it’s hard to imagine him forming a strong bipartisan coalition. Deep-red conservatism, while still popular in certain legislative districts, simply isn’t what the statewide electorate now embraces.

And Brown’s popularity remains relatively strong. The Field Poll in February found Brown’s approval rating at 57 percent, the highest point of his current term and the most approval a governor has seen since Arnold Schwarzenegger at the end of 2007 (though he finished his term in 2010 with a paltry 23 percent approval rating. The Public Policy Institute of California in September pegged Brown’s approval rating at 49 percent among likely voters.

California earlier this year was outpacing the nation in job creation, with payroll growth of around 2 percent; in the year from August 2012 to 2013, however, the state has added jobs at a rate of only about 1.5 percent. The state’s unemployment rate in August was 8.9 percent, compared to 7.3 percent nationwide.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.