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Is Neel Kashkari the Future of the California Republican Party?

by Crystal Innabi, published

With only 2 weeks left until the June 3 nonpartisan, top-two primary, tensions are rising in the California Republican Party. Under the new primary system, which will undergo its second major test in 2014, all candidates and voters participate on a single ballot and the top two vote getters advance to the general election. This means candidates are selected by a broader base of the electorate rather than a small group of purely partisan voters.

While those in favor of incumbent Jerry Brown hover at 46 percent, the more competitive "race" for the second slot -- only an expected 8-15 percent of the vote -- resides between Republicans Tim Donnelly (Twin Peaks) and Neel Kashkari. Juxtaposed, these candidates emphasize the growing dilemma of clashing ideologies within the Republican Party, where the tea party and “establishment factions” collide.

Since Brown is expected to win a historic fourth term as California governor, some may wonder why this ongoing California GOP “civil war” is causing such a stir? In reality, the fight for second place is still, in fact, a significant player in influencing both the 2014 elections and future Republican campaigns.

Donnelly, though far behind Brown, remains ahead of Kashkari by only a few points. However, while Donnelly remains the GOP poster child of such local groups as the Republican Party of Los Angeles County, he lacks both the funding and national Republican support Kashkari has gathered. The very fact that Kashkari is receiving endorsements from national Republicans is a strong indicator that members of the state GOP may revise their vote during the primary, since he is the only candidate with national party support.

While some may argue that Kashkari would be a better pick for the GOP image, he appears to have little hope of advancing to the general election as he is currently polling at only

2 percent with the primary just around the corner. In fact, the argument has been made that under the old, semi-closed primary system, Kashkari would never have entered the race because of his inability to appeal to the most partisan Republican voters.

However, in theory, Kashkari can very well gain enough momentum to slide past Donnelly under the new system since he is not only able to reach out to moderate Republicans, but voters outside the Republican Party as well. He has an opportunity to lay the groundwork to bridge moderate Republicans, moderate Democrats, and independents alike. In fact, Kashkari has even gone on record coining his “all inclusive strategy,” arguing that he is attempting to rebuild the GOP and move toward the positive message surrounding party growth.

While an advancement by Kashkari would be considered an upset in the primary, it would essentially benefit Republicans in the long run by securing positive characterizations of the future of their party. With 7 seats up for grabs in the U.S., Republicans have an opportunity to gain control of the U.S. Senate, and gain significant victories in both the House and state legislatures. Thus, a negative image portrayed by an overzealous Donnelly may in fact taint campaigns that follow -- pushing both moderate Republicans and independent voters further away.

Aside from remarks made during the May 15 radio debate, Donnelly has been characterized by his outlandish behavior and thus may have forced many national Republican leaders to quickly shift their support toward Kashkari out of fear that a second place win by Donnelly would tarnish the party as a whole.

Thus California is left with the question, is it possible for Republicans at the grassroots level -- i.e. those who support Donnelly -- to see the repercussions of their decisions on a larger scale? Or, will the California GOP be doomed to collapse on itself as the gap between establishment factions and tea party movements widen?

Photo Credit: AP Photo

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