Republican Neel Kashkari, former official with the U.S. Treasury's Troubled Asset Relief Program, declared Tuesday he's running for governor. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Republican Neel Kashkari, former official with the U.S. Treasury’s Troubled Asset Relief Program, declared Tuesday he’s running for governor. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Five days after one Republican candidate dropped out of the race for governor, another has hopped in.

Former U.S. Treasury official and investment banker Neel Kashkari – best known for leading the controversial Troubled Assets Relief Program – kicked off his campaign during a speech at Sacramento State University Tuesday afternoon.

California government may be enjoying a $4 billion surplus this year, but Kashkari will center his campaign around the premise that the state is struggling. He said California schools are failing, and pointed out that by one Cenus  Bureau measure, California has the highest poverty rate in the nation. “That’s my platform,” Kashkari said. “Jobs and education. Jobs and education. That’s it. That’s why I’m running for governor.”

Kashkari avoided specific remedies for the state’s schools and economy during the rollout speech, but promised to unveil detailed policy proposals over the coming months.

Kashkari is best known for leading the high-profile TARP effort, which bought hundreds of billions of dollars in stock from the investment banks that created the 2008 economic collapse.  His  Republican opponent, Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, blasted the program as a bailout for Kashkari’s banker “cronies,” but Kashkari defended the effort as a necessary intervention to avoid a depression.  “Your ATM might not work. You type in the code, no money comes out. Literally, you get your paycheck and you might not be able to cash it. That’s the scenario we faced,” he said.

Kashkari and Donnelly represent the polar opposites of the Republican spectrum. One is a former Goldman Sachs banker who supports abortion rights and voted for Barack Obama in 2008; the other is a Tea Party favorite who patrolled the southern border as a Minuteman.

One day into his campaign, Kashkari has the look of the party establishment favorite: his campaign is stocked with people who worked for former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and wealthy electoral also-rans Meg Whitman and Mitt Romney. Minutes after his announcement, the Republican Governors Association sent out a tweet linking to his website.  

But Kashkari will also have to confront the hurdles that every first-time candidate faces. An example of that came Tuesday morning, when the San Francisco Chronicle published an article detailing Kashkari’s spotty voting record.


Scott Detrow

Sacramento bureau chief Scott Detrow covers state government, politics and policy for KQED News and its statewide news program, The California Report.

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