When few people were listening a few years ago, Tim Donnelly and Neel Kashkari talked openly, speaking volumes about who they are and what they think.
Their words echo now as they run for governor in a race that will define the California Republican Party for years to come. Pistol-packing Tim leads Kashkari, a former U.S. Treasury official, by a wide margin in polls of likely voters.
Neither Republican can defeat Gov. Jerry Brown in the November election. But if Donnelly places second in the June 3 primary, as seems likely today, he'd become the goateed face of the party.
Kashkari is mired at 2 percent in the polls, despite endorsements from Mitt Romney, former Gov. Pete Wilson and other prominent Republicans who understand they will revive their once-Grand Old Party only if they can attract Latinos, Asians and new citizens.
To understand why Republican brass might like to kneecap Donnelly, step back to March 2006, four years before he was elected to the Assembly from the San Bernardino County town of Twin Peaks. Donnelly was a self-appointed guardian of the California-Mexico border and immersed in the Minutemen movement.
“I am a descendant of Jim Bowie, who died at the Alamo,” Donnelly said, ginning up a crowd of 200 people in the Riverside County town of Temecula, attended by current and former Republican officeholders. “It is rumored that he took a dozen Mexican soldiers to their deaths before they finally killed him. How many of you will rise up and take his place on that wall?”
Exactly which wall he's talking about isn't clear, but that passage could be heard as a call to violence, as could this: “We are in a war. You may not want to accept it. But the other side has declared war on us.” Or this: “They wave Mexican flags and gesture rudely. They chant their hatred of United States in a foreign language. . . . They stomp on, spit on and burn the American flag.”