Tim Donnelly, the Republican front-runner in the 2014 California gubernatorial race, refuses to accept that the odds are stacked against him. The conservative Twin Peaks assemblyman actually thinks he’s going to beat Jerry Brown. Talk to him long enough and you just might start thinking the same.
Lapping his nearest GOP challenger and bracing for a general election race in which 29 percent of the voters are still undecided, Donnelly is in a nice position to speak his mind about the institutions that usually hold candidates like him down.
“The media likes to control and divide us, and divide us by race,” Donnelly told The Daily Caller. “It’s not just the media. It’s the whole political class.”
“Most people don’t wake up in the morning and think ‘Gee, I’m white today’, or ‘I’m black today.’ They wake up and say I have to get the kids to school or I hope I get that promotion, or I hope Jerry Brown doesn’t let out another rapist in my neighborhood who has raped 49 women so he can rape a 50th,” Donnelly said, referring to Brown helping parole hundreds of felons.
“California is a divided majority. We can unify them on American values. In order to do that, you have to treat people with respect. As far as the media, they’re probably not going to change their playbook, but the more they attack me the more they allow me to get my message out.”
It would be easy to peg Donnelly, whose wife is Fillipino and whose five children are all of mixed race, as the divisive right-wing candidate in a state where illegal immigration is the paramount hot-button issue. But he’s not having any of it.
His recent Web ad, in which he wore a Cowboy hat and said “we need to make California the sexiest place to do business. Because right now, the only thing sexy to me in the state of California is my wife,” even featured his son joking about Donnelly’s biggest headline-making gaffe: “I’m a way better shot than my dad, and I don’t take guns on planes.”
Yes, Donnelly was cited by Ontario airport police in January 2012 for trying to carry a loaded .45-caliber handgun onto an airplane. He said he forgot the gun was in his carry-on bag. It didn’t cause too much trouble for him, though, and the more you listen to Donnelly talk the more you understand how he’s able to get away with these kinds of things.
Rob Schneider, of “Saturday Night Live” and “Deuce Bigelow: Male Gigolo” fame, is a personal buddy who came out and endorsed Donnelly for governor.
“The state of California is a mess, and the supermajority of Democrats is not working,” Schneider said, noting that he had to move his vitamin company out of the state due to overregulation. “I’ve been a lifelong Democrat, and I have to switch over because it no longer serves the people of this great state. We’re chasing businesses away… Another four years of a Democratic administration will be a disaster to this state, as it already has been.”
Donnelly even saved a potential voter last month by giving her the Heimlich maneuver at a political dinner.
“People hate politicians. They hate how fake they are. It’s almost like a combover. People would rather you just be honest and just be bald. Like you’re fooling anybody by putting on a hairpiece that blows off in the wind,” Donnelly said.
But Donnelly has already transcended his mere likability factor. His campaign strategist and spokeswoman Jennifer Kerns, previously communications director for the California GOP, is an acclaimed political pro who helped lead the campaign of Steve Poizner, the last Republican non-incumbent to win a statewide election in the insurance commissioner’s race in 2006. Kerns helped Poizner win 52 major newspaper endorsements, including the San Francisco Chronicle and the Los Angeles Times, and she’s mapped out a similar blueprint for Donnelly.
Donnelly has pulled into the GOP lead without running any television ads, and 70 percent of polled voters still say they have no strong opinion of him. That gives him a veritable blank state to run for the next 10 months against Brown, who only 34 percent of voters said they would definitely vote to re-elect in a recent poll.
On the issues, Donnelly is a conservative. And he’s taking dead aim at the incumbent.
“Jerry Brown is trying to ban hunting by banning lead ammo. That’s step one to a hunting ban in the state,” said Donnelly, a staunch Second Amendment supporter who objects to the 11 gun control bills that Brown signed in October.
In education, “we’re competing for dead last, barely beating Alabama and Mississippi in education results,” Donnelly said.
And Donnelly has special ire reserved for the socially progressive bill Brown signed in August giving boys and girls access to the bathrooms and locker rooms of their choice, which would “have first-grade boys going to the restroom next to first-grade girls without any supervision,” according to Capitol Resource Institute Executive Director Karen England.
“He’s putting the girls in the boys bathroom” while the economy declines,” Donnelly said. “It’s one of the stupidest examples of government overreach. You have the dads in California in addition to all the moms up in arms. Even liberals agree that it’s one of the stupidest bills ever.”
And on the economy, Donnelly is meeting voters eye to eye: “I’m not rich. My 401k turned into a 201k which turned into a zero-1k.”
He understands that elections, especially in California, are battles of ideas, and he’s willing to pit his libertarian-leaning vision against the progressivism that followed Brown into office after the 2010 election.
“I spoke at the poli-sci class at Berkeley. Six hundred liberals and about two conservatives. What I discovered there is if you talk a certain way it just tends to resonate with people,” Donnelly said. He spoke about the state’s Child Protective Services, which is tremendously unpopular, and which Donnelly successfully fought to audit with a bill that passed unanimously in June. “It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, white or black, this agency has abused its power so many times. That’s because they organized their agency with the SEIU [Service Employees International Union].”
Of course, Donnelly, like Schwarzenegger before him, will still have to do battle with the state’s unions, like the SEIU, which fiercely rallied against his Child Protective Services audit bill in June. It will be just one of many challenges he’ll face as he takes on Brown. But as for now, he’s optimistic that he’s winning the battle of ideas.
“After my speech at Berkeley, liberals came up afterward and said, ‘I want to work on your campaign.'”
“Not trusting government is a message that resonates with 80 percent of the people. Young people just coming up, just starting voting? They don’t trust government at all.”