“Top-Two” Gives Republican Neel Kashkari a Fighting Chance in Governor’s Race

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Republican Neel Kashkari, a former U.S. Treasury official, announced his intentions to run for governor in California on Tuesday, January 21. The news comes after months of speculation that he would run for office in 2014 and a few days after former Lt. Governor Abel Maldonado announced that he was pulling out of the governor’s race. Kashkari plans to make job creation and improving public schools a high priority for his campaign.

The 40-year-old Republican is described as a fiscal conservative, but on social issues he tends to lean more to the left — Kashkari supports abortion rights and same-sex marriage. He is a gun owner, but he does not object to certain reforms to U.S.  gun policy, such as expanding and enforcing background checks on all firearm purchases.

While Kashkari could appeal to many independent-minded voters in California, his position on certain issues would not make him very popular with several members of the Republican Party. His vote for Barack Obama in 2008, alone, would be a deal breaker for most Republican leaders, donors, and voters.

Under the old closed primary system in California, Kashkari would likely not even throw his name in for consideration because there would be no way he could survive a primary race against, say, Tim Donnelly of Twin Peaks, who is the other Republican in the 2014 gubernatorial election. Donnelly is a conservative Republican and is considered a tea party favorite.

However, under the Top-Two Primary System, he has an opportunity to reach out to a larger electorate of Republicans, Democrats, independents, and third party voters.

Under the new primary system, all voters and candidates, regardless of party affiliation, have access to a single ballot and the top two vote getters move on to the general election. Neel Kashkari’s name will be on the same ballot as Donnelly and any other candidate — Democrat, independent, or third party — running for governor, giving every voter in the state the ability to decide who they want on the general election ballot.

While Kashkari still has an uphill battle ahead of him — gaining Republican endorsements and fundraising — he has a message that can appeal to a broad base of the electorate in California which makes him a viable contender in the 2014 gubernatorial race. This is something that would only be possible under a nonpartisan election system like “Top-Two.”