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Herdt: Can California's GOP win by losing?

  • Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, urges lawmakers to reject a Medicaid expansion bill before the Legislature at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Saturday, June 15, 2013. Despite Republican concerns about the program's future costs, both houses of the Legislature approved the measure that would expand Medicaid to 1.4 million low-income Californians as part of President Obama's Affordable Care Act. The vote came a day after the Legislature passed the main bill to enact California's $96.3 billion state budget plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

California's political class has settled on the conventional wisdom about conservative Assemblyman Tim Donnelly's campaign for the GOP nomination for governor.

It goes like this: Donnelly, a former member of the minutemen, is too conservative for California. He doesn't have a chance to seriously challenge Gov. Jerry Brown, and having him as the Republican standard-bearer would be very bad for a state party already in deep trouble.

Donnelly has heard such talk but wonders just how savvy some of these Republican wise guys really are.

"Are they the same ones who advised Meg Whitman?" he asks.

It will be a tall order for any Republican to seriously challenge Brown next year, assuming he gets around to announcing his intent to seek re-election. Brown has unparalleled name-recognition, a boatload of campaign funds and will be able to credibly claim that he guided California out of its financial abyss.

As a result, many Republicans are now saying their party needs someone who, even in losing, would begin the process of restoring the GOP's image. Perhaps former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, the son of a Mexican immigrant. Or maybe Indian-American Neel Kashkari, who worked for President George W. Bush. Or possibly former Rep. Chris Cox, an elder statesman.

Donnelly believes some who are floating those suggestions are bent on steering the state GOP even further off course. What the party cannot do, he says, is to sail off in search of converts while leaving behind the folks who built their ship.

"The Republican Party has abandoned the people who brought them to the party," he said.

Donnelly is a candidate capable of exciting such folks.

He takes a tough line on illegal immigration, assailing Brown for just having signed "nine bills to give more benefits to people in the country illegally." After Brown agreed to let such individuals obtain driver's licenses, it was Donnelly who went on Fox News to sound the alarm.

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