Give Neel Kashkari credit: He's thinking big and telling people his thoughts.
The Republican has little chance of beating Gov. Jerry Brown and being elected governor. But don't tell him. He's campaigning hard and talking to anyone who will listen.
And he's sketching out a substantive plan, just in case, that addresses what polls show is Californians' No. 1 priority: Improving the state's economy and creating more jobs.
There are plenty of holes to poke at in the former U.S. Treasury official's 10-point "jobs plan" unveiled Tuesday. But it's out there. Where is Brown's? Don't bother looking.
Kashkari's No. 1 personal priority right now is gaining attention and getting known. Few are aware that he's trying to challenge the popular Democratic governor's bid for a record fourth term.
If there's a GOP establishment favorite, it is Kashkari, 40. He's a first-generation American whose parents emigrated from India, an investment banker and onetime federal bailout czar.
He's a pro-business fiscal conservative. But he also is a social moderate who doesn't think the government should interfere with same-sex couples desiring to merry or women seeking an abortion. And he believes there should be a path to citizenship for immigrants who entered the country illegally.
One other thing, he says. He's a gun owner. But if you're obsessed with firearms and believe everyone has a right to arm himself to the teeth, better choose another candidate — like tea-party favorite Tim Donnelly, a Twin Peaks assemblyman and outspoken all-purpose conservative.
Right now, Donnelly is running ahead of Kashkari in the little-noticed race for second in the June open primary. The top two finishers will face each other in the November runoff.
A poll released Wednesday by the Public Policy Institute of California shows Brown favored by 47 percent of likely voters, followed far back by Donnelly at 10 percent. Kashkari is tied at 2 percent — that's not a typo — with the virtually invisible Laguna Hills Mayor Andrew Blount. And 36 percent say they don't know whom to support.
One faint ray of hope for the Republicans: Brown's job rating is down a bit from January among likely voters. Two months ago, 60 percent approved of his job performance; now 52 percent do.
Brown's approval has dropped, theorizes Mark Baldassare, the institute's president and pollster, because the governor has been rather aloof the last two months. "He has not been out there making a lot of noise," Baldassare says. In January, he was touting "incredibly good news" about the end of budget deficits.
Also not helping Brown is his tenacious pushing of the divisive bullet train. The poll found likely voters opposing the $68-billion Los Angeles-to-San Francisco project by 50 percent to 45 percent.
Kashkari calls it "the crazy train." Part of his plan is to ask voters to redirect $9 billion in high-speed rail bonds they previously approved to spending for new water storage — dams and aquifers, north and south. Baldassare's poll found that the water shortage has risen to Californians' No. 2 concern, behind the economy and jobs.
"The water issue has come out of nowhere," the pollster says. "It's a political wild card. The budget crisis has subsided. Now the governor's dealing with a different kind of scarcity. It's going to be the issue to watch."