You know who Neel Kashkari is, right? The GOP gubernatorial candidate who single-handedly ended the unemployment problem in the state by living as a homeless person on the streets of Fresno for a week while getting turned down for jobs?

OK, so not so much on that, but he did manage to insinuate himself into headlines around the country with a 10-minute video of the enterprise rhetorically titled “Is California Back?” (Answer: No, it is not, at least for those seeking employment by cold calling on businesses complete with videographer in tow.)

Some may consider the political stunt unseemly or even offensive (see this open letter to Kashkari by a homeless mother on the Huffington Post). But the fact is that Kashkari, lagging Gov. Jerry Brown by 20 points and nearly running on empty in terms of campaign cash, reaped a publicity bonanza. “Within 24 hours of revealing his unorthodox six-day foray on the streets of Fresno, Kashkari hit the social media jackpot, trending on Twitter with nearly 5,000 tweets and reaping 70,000 views,” wrote Carla Marinucci in the Chronicle on Monday.

Still, it seems a long shot that Kashkari’s stunt alone can propel him into parity with Brown on — well, on anything: name recognition, cash, votes — in a state that leans heavily Democratic and with a popular if not legendary incumbent as his opponent. Sacramento Bee editorial cartoonist Jack Ohman helped illustrate that recently by wandering around the state Capitol, introducing himself as “Neel Kashkari, running for governor,” to see if anyone challenged him on the assertion. The 40 people, he glad-handed, says Ohman, didn’t bat an eye. (As a control, the cartoonist introduced himself to someone as Meg Whitman, eliciting laughter. But the woman still didn’t know who Kashkari was.) Video above.

But no matter what sort of hay politicians, pundits or practical jokers may make of Kashkari’s gambit, real, unaddressed economic problems still exist in California, despite the state’s comeback. KQED’s John Myers discussed this in a post last week:

A study released late last year estimates some 8 million Californians live in poverty conditions — conditions that are sadly the norm for one in five of the state’s children.

In an exclusive KQED interview in April, the governor took issue with those who say he’s not doing enough. Instead, Brown blamed the root causes of poverty on forces that extend far beyond California’s borders.

Still, public polling shows that a growing number of Californians feel on the wrong side of the income gap. And Kashkari believes he can, in a sense, outflank Jerry Brown on the issue of poverty.

“Gov. Brown is not talking about poverty,” said the GOP candidate in his Thursday morning news conference at a Sacramento food bank. “And if he refuses to talk about the issues, and candidly I don’t think the press is challenging him on it, then I’m going to do it.”

But critics argue Kashkari needs a better solution than what he’s laid out so far — namely, that poverty will subside by simply boosting the state’s business sector and streamlining regulations in California schools. And one national writer on Thursday suggested the first-time candidate is confusing poverty with unemployment and homelessness.

In order to get any traction on this issue, says Myers, Kashkari “needs to find a way to turn his poverty platform into more than just a one-week walk on the wrong side of the tracks.”

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor