Archive for the ‘California Politics’ Category

Temper, Temper: Kashkari’s Odd Attack on Calbuzz

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

300-xerxes Neel Kashkari lashed out at two, slightly tipsy Calbuzzers extending handshakes Saturday night, a rookie display of pique and rancor that hints at a strain of distemper in his executive disposition.

“You’re the two geniuses who wrote that I wasn’t doing anything to help the Republican Party. Nice call,” snapped the wannabe GOP governor, before stalking off as we stood gape-mouthed. We waited for the sound of his bedroom door slamming but it was too loud in the hotel lobby to hear it.

Secret Memo to Neel: Might be time to drop the Red Bull and tweak diet.

At first glance, the goofy episode was just one more oddment in the endless firmament of state political conventions (and less strange, surely, than the Saturday night invocation featuring a plea to God to kill the bullet train). As a practical matter, however, Kashkari’s amped-up snarl at geezer journos offers a glimpse of an overwrought personal style in dealing with disagreement, at a time he wants to be hired to preside over some of the world’s most complex and contentious political issues.

kashkari closeupGape mouthed jammies: If borne of frustration, Neel’s mini-tantrum in a crowded hallway of the L.A. Airport Marriott was somewhat understandable, coming at the end of a long couple of days during which Mr. Cranky Pants was shunned and dissed in some key quarters of the convention, feeding a narrative of GOP disunity ably documented by Michael Finnegan, Seema Mehta, David Siders and Carla Marinucci, here, here and here.

As Staff Psychiatrist Dr. P.J. Hackenflack asked, while mopping our brows as we lay upon our fainting couches after the set-to: “Was Neel perhaps feeling a bit sad and unappreciated at the time?”

Still, Crybaby Kashkari’s outburst baffled your plucky and steadfast Calbuzzards for several reasons:

1)    We’ve, um, never written that Kashkari “wasn’t doing anything to help the Republican Party.” Quite the opposite: we’ve noted on several occasions that his libertarian stances on cultural issues are nudging the GOP in the direction of Calbuzz Republicanism.

2)    Even if we had written what he falsely claimed, throwing a little hissy fit in front of delegates and reporters is not exactly textbook technique for handling disagreements with the political press,  which tend to be more successful when conducted privately and in a civil tone.

3)   Plus: WTF is your problem, dude?

 tryionkashkaricroppedA clue to the mystery: Aaron McLear, Kashkari’s top professional handler, had let him off the leash returned to Sacramento from L.A. earlier, and had no explanation for Neel’s behavior when we contacted him Saturday night, other than saying his guy had had some difficult days and urging us to cut him some slack.

By early Sunday, however, McLear and some of Neel’s fans in the press box had pulled their story together, and now pointed to 20-words at the bottom of a 1,125-word piece that we posted nearly two months ago. It seems we had offended Prince Tyrion and conjured his furious anger by writing the following. From McLear:

“Assume he was referring to this: ‘The widely known political imp Tyrion of Kashkari has not for one minute shown interest in re-branding his party.’”

Uh, okay. More confounding riddles!

1) If this so disturbed the Great Man, why nurse his resentment like a sore tooth with his tongue for two months instead of calling, emailing, texting or tweeting to say we’re all wet and explain why?  Or: stand there and talk to us about it on Saturday night?  Like, you know, an adult.

2) When the piece published, there was scant evidence that Neel’s mission was to re-brand the Republican party, or do anything other than promote his career; his previous rhetoric about poverty and unemployment was laudable enough, but what ideas or strategies had he set forth that in any way approached a redefinition of the state GOP (other than pretending to be homeless in Fresno – a grandstand stunt that didn’t sit well with Mayor Ashley Swearengin, the Republican candidate for Controller, who now refuses to endorse Kashkari, surprise, surprise). And there was scarce talk of “re-branding” when he spoke at last spring’s convention to shill for pre-primary support.

3-Wait, does this guy really read Calbuzz that closely? Jeez, some days we don’t even get that far into our stories. Maybe he should have his head examined.

goldwaterComes the epiphany: And then it dawned on us. The piece to which Kashkari had taken objection was only tangentially about him anyway. Instead it was cast as a vicious personal attack on the wretched George Will, who had composed a cringe worthy paean to Neel, during a West Coast junket, comparing him to friggin’ Barry Goldwater.

Maybe George had too many martinis wherever he was staying in Menlo Park when he wrote about Goldwater’s nomination at the “unfortunately named Cow Palace” “fifty Julys ago, up the road near San Francisco.” Or maybe he just had to come up with something to write off his trip out to the hustings…

Kashkari isn’t fighting for a cause or a movement or much of anything except to be governor. He’s a lot healthier face for the California GOP than Tim Donnelly would have been. And if his presence on the ticket signals a nudge toward reason among California Republicans, that’ll be a good thing for his party. But the suggestion that he’s the leader of some ideological shift is little more than the musings of a Washington Beltway scribe in search of a metaphor. And, no doubt, a fine dinner.

Here’s the thing: For Neel, as a Wharton/Goldman/Beltway conservative elite careerist, having George Freakin’ Will punch his ticket as the Next Big Thing was no doubt a true peak moment, a rapture of validation from a creaky oracle of worn-out Beltway wisdom. Then Calbuzz, which unlike Neel understands that the only people who read George Will are those paid to do so, wanders in to piss all over his big prize.

neel_kashkari-620x412Final piece of the puzzle: And then came Neel’s hangover slot speech to the convention Sunday morning, a thoughtful address delivered Phil Donahue-style (if Donohue had 12 double espressos before going on), in which he actually did argue for the re-branding of the Republican Party. A no-notes speech which he surely was mulling at the time of our encounter Saturday night (“Nice call!”).

I want to help lead the fight to reintroduce us to the people of California and of America…Our legacy, we are the party fighting for civil rights, we are the party fighting for the poor, we are the party fighting for working families… We should be damn proud of who we are.

Pretty good stuff (except that, as always, he banged too heavy on the keys and just had to  congratulate himself for being “transformational”). He deserves an attaboy for it.

His claim that the Republicans are the true party of civil rights, of course, is full of historical holes and hooey (see: Nixon, Southern Strategy) but it’s an unqualified good thing for all GOP stalwarts to hear that kind of uplifting stuff, if only to stop thinking about guns and gay marriage for a moment, and to be asked to stretch their political views to include compassion for the less blessed. Kashkari’s embrace of the Vergara case is a substantive and important issue that draws a clear line between D’s and R’s. And it can’t hurt to have two parties at least vaguely concerned about working families, instead of just one.

After he loses to the aged Gov. Gandalf in November, we’ll watch to see if Xerxes of Kashkari, pictured above, continues to work inside the California GOP to push it toward reason. If he does, we’ll agree that we were premature in our judgment about his mission. If not, well: Toldja!

Bottom line. Dear Mr. Kashkari: We’re really, really sorry we hurt your feelings. We promise never to do it again.

PS: Kashkari wasn’t the only Republican to snap at Calbuzz over the weekend. On Friday, at the welcome reception, we noticed a little old man that few other reporters recognized — the Rev. Lou Sheldon — had just endorsed Neel, who is pro-choice and pro-gay marriage, issues on which Sheldon had led virulent Christian crusades against within the California GOP for years. The Rev had even endorsed right-wing nutball Tim Donnelly in the primary. So we asked him if he was giving Kash a pass on social issues. “When you’re starving, crumbs taste darn good,” he said (suggesting Neel is pretty much table scraps.) David Siders of the Sacratomato Bee caught part of the interchange and posted it. Here’s the link.

Rand Paul Serves Thin Gruel to GOP Convention

Sunday, September 21st, 2014

imageCalifornia Republicans hoping to be fired up and inspired by U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, the keynote speaker at Saturday’s GOP convention, instead were given a limp, meandering ramble, in which the prospective presidential candidate took recycled shots at President Obama and Hillary Clinton, while largely avoiding anything of substance.

It was weak sauce.

Paul, whose libertarian friends are angry about his increasing willingness to use U.S. force in the Middle East; who has enraged conservatives by falsely linking Sen. John McCain to ISIS members, and who allied himself with pacifist Democratic liberals by voting against Obama’s plan to attack ISIS, said little about foreign affairs. Except to attack Clinton — the most likely Democratic nominee for president — for allegedly spending State Department money frivolously instead of beefing up U.S. facilities in Benghazi before the mission there was attacked.

In what is a certain refrain if he and she both seek the presidency, Paul said of Clinton: “If you can’t defend our embassies and you won’t send the assets there, you preclude yourself from being considered for Commander in Chief.”

He charged that Clinton failed to read critical cables requesting support. “I think she had a 3 a.m. moment. She didn’t answer the phone. And I think it absolutely should preclude her from being considered,” he said to applause.

Picking Winners and Losers Calbuzz had hoped to hear his views on foreign policy, along with key social issues for California voters: a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, a woman’s right to choose, gay marriage and universal health care. But while Paul made private interview time available to the loathsome Breitbart News and Fox, along with MSM must-dos like the Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle, he and his callow staff stiffed Calbuzz and, more mysteriously, the Sacramento Bee – and why not? why would a Republican want to reach voters that covers California’s red-tinged Central Valley?

Paul paid lip service to building a “bigger, better, bolder party” (wasn’t that an old marketing slogan for Tide?) and “reaching out” beyond the GOP’s reliable base of white men and Southerners. But amid his insistence that the Republicans not change their fundamental message, the only such “reaching out” example he could muster was a brief reference to “let’s expand voter rights,” which received a tepid response from the 373 partisans munching on seared breast of oregano chicken, herb roasted potatoes, chopped salad and berry tart. Now there’s something to reach out for

Imaginary Friends Republicans are excited to the point of delusion about Paul’s appeal to younger voters because his civil libertarian defense of privacy rights in the face of the intelligence establishment’s Big Brotherism has some genuine appeal.”What you say on your cell phone is none of the government’s damn business,” he said at one point, pulling his phone from his pocket.

But when contrasted to his opposition to abortion and gay marriage, it’s a stretch to see how Paul can appeal broadly to younger voters, even if his laconic raspy Southern voice recalls a bit of Bill Clinton.

Calbuzz found it just a bit mind-bending that after a briefing with California Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, in which Huff said “We’re not a lock-step, right-wing, knee-jerk organization” (ouch!) Paul’s introduction was preceded by high-production value campaign video that, among other things, featured props from, among others, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity.


GOP Confab: Can Paul, McCarthy Hide True Beliefs?

Friday, September 19th, 2014

paulmccarthyThe headliners for the California Republican Party convention in Los Angeles this weekend –  newly re-branded U.S. Sen. Rand Paul,  R-KY, and U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield – fit the profile of modern Golden State Republicans that Chairman Jim Brulte would like to popularize: well-spoken GOP celebrities who don’t sound like fire-breathing evangelists.

But when their actual records are examined, Paul and McCarthy are wholly in tune with Tea Party terrorized Republican orthodoxy –and some of the most whackjob extremists — on the most divisive issues for California voters: immigration, abortion, gay marriage and health care. (Not to mention climate change or the minimum wage.)

When it comes to projecting an image that doesn’t frighten moderate and independent voters, Paul and McCarthy are top-notch picks. But – whisper aside – they’re both opposed to a pathway to citizenship and a woman’s right to choose, against gay marriage and would – even now — repeal Obamacare.

yodaWisdom of Yoda Rhetoric does not supplant action; good words are no substitute for good deeds. As Calbuzzer Yoda explained to young Luke Skywalker: “Try not. Do or not do. There is no try.”

Paul, in particular, as a potential 2016 candidate for president, has sought to soften his image on a variety of issues, especially immigration. He claims to have sympathy for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, has said he favors giving work permits to all of the country’s illegal immigrants and he says he’s for immigration reform.

“I’m actually a moderate on immigration,” he said in one interview.

But not really. He voted against the comprehensive bill that was passed by the Senate last year, he previously opposed the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program, which allowed up to 500,000 undocumented minors to be exempted from deportation.  And he sharply criticized Texas Gov. Rick Perry for embracing in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. His “sympathy” for “the DREAM Act kids” only goes so far.

“I’m very open to discussing that I think there should be some kind of immigration reform, but I don’t think you can do it without first securing the border, and that’s the problem with the president doing this unlawfully,” Paul has said. And he’s left no doubt that he’s opposed to giving “amnesty” to undocumented immigrants.

dodgeballHow they dodge Paul and others have made two critical sidesteps in hopes of finessing the immigration issue:

1) They no longer talk about a pathway to citizenship but discuss a pathway to legalization, meaning undocumented immigrants already here might be able to get some form of residence status short of citizenship (and the right to vote);

2) They’re all for comprehensive reform but only after the “borders have been secured” – whatever that means and however that would be measured. Which it can’t, which is why it’s a phony form of support for immigration reform.

In other words, Sen. Paul talks a good game on immigration – hoping to sound less threatening to Latino voters – but in the end, he’s an impassable boulder on the pathway  to citizenship.

The 100% compromise: The other keynote speaker, Kevin McCarthy, likewise says he supports some form of legalization of undocumented immigrants, but he opposes a pathway to citizenship and, as Majority Leader of the House – the No. 2 leadership position – he has failed to bring immigration reform to the floor for a vote.

He, too, uses border security as a way to dodge pushing for reform. As he said in an interview with Fox News:

I’m on record saying nothing about immigration, until we secure the borders. The borders are not secure. Look at the humanitarian crisis that is happening right now along the border states. These are children coming from three major countries in Central America. They’re going across. Kids are dying. Who knows what’s happening when it comes to human trafficking and others, it’s because our borders are not secure. Until you secure the borders, you cannot have the conversation about anything else.

When Chris Wallace asked, “That must come first?” McCarthy replied, “That must come first.”

That’s not reasonable compromise, As MSNBC’s Rachael Maddow put it, McCarthy’s approach is that “Republicans should get 100% of what they want, he says, while Democrats get 0% of what they want. Once the GOP is satisfied with having everything, Republicans will then consider related policies.”

goptalibanBowing to GOP Taliban Paul and McCarthy may be in tune with the jihadist Republicans who attend GOP conventions, but they are sharply out of touch with California voters at large. As the Field Poll reported last February:

There is now nearly universal support among California voters to allow undocumented immigrants who have lived here for a number of years to stay and become citizens if they have a job, learn English, and pay back taxes. Statewide, 90% of voters now favor this policy.

Just last week, the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll reported that 72% of likely voters in California – including 72% of Republicans! – agreed with a plan including a provision that would boost border security and “allow illegal immigrants already in the United States with no serious criminal record to apply for legal status, learn English, pay taxes and a penalty and then go to the back of the line to work toward citizenship.”

Paul and McCarthy are not even in synch with the majority view throughout the country where a recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution, nonpartisan research groups in Washington, found 62% of Americans in favor of a path to citizenship for immigrants living in the United States illegally.

But they sound reasonable when talking about the issue. And that’s the image Brulte is hoping to project as he tries to rebuild the California GOP.

Likewise on abortion, Paul and McCarthy like to sound reasonable, but they’re not.

Paul, for example, says he wouldn’t try to overturn Roe v Wade but in Congress he introduced the Life at Conception Act, which would grant legal personhood rights to zygotes from the moment of fertilization. The bill would ban abortion entirely and could affect the legality of some forms of birth control and in-vitro fertilization.

McCarthy is  in lockstep with National Right to Life on the issues surrounding abortion and favored cutting off funds to Planned Parenthood.

threecardmonteWhat you cannot fake Immigration and abortion are not just important wedge issues – they’re threshold issues that have a dramatic effect on Latino and women voters in particular. While few Latinos or women argue that immigration or choice on abortion are the No. 1 issue facing the nation, huge proportions of these voters don’t even want to hear a candidate’s stand on other, more important issues, if he or she (or a party) is on the “wrong” side of these  threshold issues.

Gay marriage and Obamacare are other high-profile issues on which both Paul and McCarthy may appeal to the Republican shock troops who attend GOP conventions, but not the broad mass of California or even U.S. voters.

“It’s the dilemma of appealing to the base versus winning elections,” says lobbyist Bob Naylor, the very smart former Assembly leader and state GOP chairman. “To the extent that those issues are defining issues, I don’t think you can finesse it.”

We can’t wait to see how far the headliners are willing to go on any of these issues when they speak to delegates on Saturday. The smart money says that Paul, at least, will be keeping the national impact of his words in mind, even if it means sounding a bit “moderate” to the red meat crowd of conventioneers.

P.S. Our National Desk and Political Swag Collection Department will travel to the fabulous L.A. Airport Marriott Hotel for the convention to provide the Special Brand of Journalism you’ve come to expect from Calbuzz.

Neel Strong in Debate; Brown’s Record Stronger

Thursday, September 4th, 2014


Top line on Thursday night’s debate between Neel Kashkari and Gov. Jerry Brown: Neel put in a strong and substantive showing. But it won’t matter because Brown makes an inarguable case that California was in the toilet when he took over and since then he’s put the budget in the black, added 4 1.4 million jobs, implemented Obamacare, got a deal on water and achieved relative harmony in Sacramento. Higher education, immigration and climate change have all been addressed in some form. Which is why six in 10 voters approve of his job performance.

Neel, despite looking something like Mr. Spock, proved he belonged on the same stage, was not intimidated and showed familiarity, if not mastery, of key issues. His fundamental problem is that the premise of his campaign does not reflect reality. Voters don’t believe, and they sure don’t want to hear, the negative case he’s making. Voters want to hear positive stuff — paging Ronald Reagan! — as long as it doesn’t conflict too sharply with their own lives.

Neel’s other problem: he’s up against Republican orthodoxy on climate change, gay marriage and Obamacare, slicing into his Republican base, apparently in hopes of attracting independents. It won’t work: in California, you scratch an “independent” and usually you get a Democratic voter. That’s certainly the case with Brown: he leads Kashkari 42-24% among voters with no party preference.

We don’t fault Neel his effort: he’s basically a Calbuzz Republican (if he’d stop with the “crazy train”). Hopefully, he can be among those who lead the California GOP out of the wilderness.

Props to the CalChannel producers for limiting the number of reporters to two, both of whom asked excellent questions: HT John Myers, Dunia Elvir and Jim Newton. It was one of the better debates we’ve seen in recent years and we agree with Jerry — one is enough.

Here’s our live blog entries, from last to first.

7:55 – Brown closes with “we’ve got momentum and we’re moving in the right direction.” Neel closes with “rebuilding the middle class for you” and accuses Brown of “incrementalism.” Whatever that is. Neel says he’ll do “big things.” Whatever that means….Meanwhile Seattle leads Packers 29-10.

7:54 – H/t to Cathy Decker for noting that Kashkari keeps using the awful word “incentivize.” Yuk.

7:52 – Neel faults Brown’s UC policy for going after foreign students who have to pay higher tuition at the expense of “California kids.” Brown notes he froze tuition for UC and CSU for three years.

7:49 – Spoiler alert: Brown discloses that he will sign bill outlawing plastic bags. Kashkari says no way would he sign it; hits governor and Legislature for focusing on little things – like legislation allowing dogs in restaurants – instead of bigger vision “rebuilding the middle class.”

7:46 – California is recovering faster than the rest of the country, Brown says. Hits Neel on Goldman Sachs (not some poor immigrant grocery store bagger). Brown making the case for a positive view of California.

7:44 – Neel dodges Myers question of whether he would have signed the bill letting illegals getting a driver’s license after Jerry strongly defends. Kashkari says we need federal not state legislation – Myers doesn’t follow up.

7:41 – Now Neel says he won’t try to end Obamacare – “I want to fix it.” Is this guy really a Republican? Brown getting more and more feisty: “There are so many glib statements out there I don’t know where to start.” Then he goes all populist on Neel, calling him a “salesman” who “learned your job well at Goldman Sachs” which “wrecked Wall Street.” Says Kashkari is “an arsonist putting out the fire.”

7:40 - Here’s Kashkari’s problem: He’s got to make the case that California’s going to hell in a hand basket but 58% of voters approve of Jerry Brown’s performance as governor.

7:37 – Jerry schooling on pension reform. The guy really is a wonder – 76 years old and fighting like he’s 40.

7:35 – Right-wingers will really be growling at Neel now: he not only explains his support of gay marriage, but also defends Brown’s action as AG not supporting Prop. 8 backers’ appeal of Court of Appeals decision tossing it. Reps are only 28% of voters, and he’s alienating at least half of them.

7:32 – Jerry says the crazy train will be built cause it’s cheaper than the alternatives and Neel’s “more familiar with the gravy train back in DC” because of TARP.

7:30 – It’s a tough thing to say, but there’s no way around it: Kashkari looks like Mr. Spock. There we said it. Talk about an eyebrow problem. Calbuzz may have to change his nickname from “Tyrion” to “Spock.”

7:26 – Good question by Dunia Elvir of Telemundo on realignment: a success or just moving the problem to locals? Weak Jerry response: “anything in government takes time.” Looks like pace is getting to him as he suddenly takes a big gulp from a a black mug, presumably water, then signals someone offstage for more. His face is red – is our projection #2 in today’s preview coming true?

7:24 - Neel defends his role in managing the Troubled Asset Recovery Program. Brown trumps by bringing up $32 billion given in bonuses to Wall Street.

7:22 – Kash attacks on teacher tenure, says Brown sided with forces of evil against children. Not true says Brown. Great exchange – Neel says Brown “should be ashamed” while Gandalf says that’s just “so wrong.” Good question by Jim Newton from L.A. Times; very fast paced debate, good exchanges, Myers doing a nice job of keeping to time limits.

7:20 – “We can’t simply solve all the worlds problems with an open border,” Neel says. He’s for compassion but also sending kids home. Brown’s for a fair hearing, whatever that is.

7:19 – GOP wing nuts won’t like hearing Neel say he “believe(s) in the science of climate change” but won’t support AB32 implementation because of high gas prices.

7:15 – Jerry filibusters to avoid talking about gas prices — they go up and they go down — just like he paddles on the left and right. Climate change, BTW, is “an existential threat.”

7:14 – Neel looks very good on Tesla, attacking Brown’s performance on the issue as “only one of many examples of failure” in the administration. Very articulate, tough and clear. Round to Kashkari.

7:12 – Asked if he would give special tax breaks for Tesla, Neel doesn’t answer directly. Says Brown hasn’t done enough. Says Tesla wanted massive subsidy that wouldn’t benefit California. CA is leader in alt energy and electric cars.

7:08 – Brown calls out Kashkari for ducking Myers question about Field Poll. Tells  Neel he doesn’t “have much chance to win” because he as governor has done a terrific job. Then he demonstrates his mastery of water politics while pitching for his water bond; “I don’t think this man understands” water policy.

7:07 – Neel says water and schools have to come before high-speed rail.

7:05 Neel thanks TV audience for watching the debate instead of the NFL game. Charges Brown is “out of touch…with middle class” and claims he will “rebuild middle class.” Good makeup on his chrome dome – no shine from studio lights.

7:04 – Jerry opens by reminding people that California was a mess when he took over and now it’s on the road to recovery with a balanced budget. Strong opener.

7:02 – John Myers introducing everyone – love his gold silk pocket handkerchief; Brown trimmed his eyebrows; Neel smiling weirdly.

6:58 – BTW, Calbuzz is NOT on site, where we can be spun; we’re in the state-of-the-art politically influential communities of Aptos and Santa Barbara…here we go…

6:52 – Eight minutes to kickoff on the debate, two minutes left before halftime in the other game, where Ha-Ha looks more like Boo-Hoo: torched for a touchdown and brushed off like a fly trying to tackle Marshawn Lynch. Oy

6:34 – Kashkari tells media outside of CalChannel studio that he intends to hold Brown accountable for his record. Sorry, Neel, but we don’t think Jerry will mind this. Field Poll: Brown job performance 58% approve, 36% disapprove. Oops.

6:02 – For the three people who are reading this instead of watching the game (thanks honey!) Seattle was held to a field goal at 6:03 in the first quarter.

5:48 – Whatever Neel and Jerry are doing right now, the Packers have stopped the Seahawks on their first drive but then roughed the punter. So Seattle has the ball back deep inside Packer territory. Dammit. Also, there’s a Packer named Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix. Really.

5:24 pm – Glad to hear 41-year-old Neel Kashkari’s back problems — which almost derailed his only shot at a debate — disappeared before he sits down with 76-year-old Gov. Jerry Brown, whose back apparently is just fine. Sheesh.


Can Neel Beat the Spread? Plus New Poll Numbers

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

gandalfandtyrionFacing California’s most prosaic election in memory, our Department of Spectator Sport Politics and Insensate Choices is girding its loins (ow!) for the fall campaign by reviewing the words of the late Senator Gene (Not Joe) McCarthy:

“Being in politics is like being a football coach,” Clean Gene famously said. “You have to be smart enough to understand the game and dumb enough to think it’s important.”

McCarthy’s maxim seems an appropriate invocation for tonight’s one and only debate between Gov. Jerry (+16 in the Field Poll) Brown and Republican challenger Neel Kashkari, since this Made for C-SPAN event will go nose-to-nose against NBC’s broadcast of the NFL season opener between the Seahawks (5.5 point favorites) against the Packers.

High roller tip: If you bet the ratings face-off, take the game and give the points. The one-hour debate starts at 7 p.m. in the Sacramento studio of The California Channel. Other sponsors are KQED, the Los Angeles Times and Telemundo52. Tune in here for a live blog and tweet fest.

newmegWhat Neel must do: Let’s be blunt: Tyrion’s chances of upsetting Gandalf in November are dependent upon at least one of three key things happening at the debate:

1-In a fiery exchange, Kashkari confounds Brown into showing his age by peppering him with a series of tough philosophical questions – “Before they invented golf balls, how did they measure hail?” “Why isn’t ‘phonetic’ spelled the way it sounds?” “What’s another word for ‘thesaurus?’” – that send the Jesuit incumbent screaming into the night before announcing his abdication the next morning.

2-In response to a question about the California Water Project from moderator John Myers, Brown takes a sip from his glass, suddenly complains of “pain in my jaw, radiating down my left arm,” then falls to the floor and turns blue. Alternatively, he copiously drools.

3-The event is interrupted by the breaking news that eMeg Whitman has purchased California, in a deal underwritten by Goldman Sachs, and is installing Neel in Sacramento as “Pro Consul and COO.”

woolymammothOf course, it’s also true that the impish Kashkari can win by losing – running a thoughtful, respectable and dignified race and beating the spread at the Calbuzz Casino (see below). In a year when California GOP Chairman Jim Brulte has begun to pull his party out of the La Brea tar pits, and helped put forth some of its most appealing candidates in recent years – Ashley Swearingen and Pete Peterson come to mind – Kashkari can make his bones politically.

As a personal matter, a stronger-than-expected race instantly will establish him as a Player in Republican politics, and leave him well positioned for another run for governor or for the Senate, depending on circumstances. More importantly, Kashkari could provide a major boost for Brulte’s long game effort to rebrand the party in California and make it relevant again.

We don’t agree with everything Tyrion says – as certified geezers, we strongly support railroads, and look askance at his attacks on Brown’s “Crazy Train” – but were impressed in an extensive interview with him by his biography, openness on immigration and rejection of Flashreport dogma. Now all he’s got to do is to keep running as a Calbuzz Republican.

pollingFun with numbers: The latest Field Poll shows Gandalf leading Tyrion 50-34 percent among likely voters. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg that the Good Ship Kashkari is about to encounter.  Brown not only is winning 83% of Democrats and 42% of independents, he’s got 11% of Republicans. Neel, on the other hand, pulls 77% of Republicans, but just 24% of independents and a puny 6% of Democrats.

Worse for Kash & Karry, he beats Brown among conservatives 71-16%, but loses liberals 91-1% and gets stomped among all-important middle-of-the-road voters 55-23%. Brown is leading among men (50-33%) and women (50-35%) and among whites (50-39%), Latinos (49-28%), Asians (40-19%) and blacks (82-9%).

While nearly everyone has an opinion about Gandalf, and their views are 56% favorable to 35% unfavorable, fewer than 6 in 10 likely voters even have an opinion about Tyrion and it’s just 35% favorable and 24% unfavorable. After tonight’s debate, only a few more voters may know who Kashkari is;  more important for him, his favorable rating might improve if he acquits himself nicely.

(Mandatory belaboring: These numbers brought to you by our secret sources since a prominent subscriber to the Field Poll has blackballed Calbuzz from being able to subscribe to the poll directly).

bad-bookieCooking all these stats together, we set the Week One betting line in the governor’s race as Brown -20, Kashkari +20. (About the same as Gray Davis vs. Dan Lungren in ’98)

We’ll be updating the line regularly between now and November, depending on events in the campaign, and in mid-October we’ll announce details of the Calbuzz Election Pool, entry in which will make you eligible for Big Prizes.

BTW P.S. The biggest political event of tonight will not be the gubernatorial debate, but rather the joint appearances in San Francisco of Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Kamala Harris before about 50 $1,000-to-$10,000 donors to the California Democratic Party .

Get ready for Election 2018!