05/31/2014 04:33 pm ET Updated Jul 31, 2014

California Primary: Devolution and the Republican Race to Lose to Jerry Brown

Just a few days remain till California's primary election. Will California Republicans, whose share of the state's electorate dropped more than seven percent over the past decade, veer even further to the right with their standard-bearer for governor? Or will they at least pick a modernizer who might help point the way to a future for the party and won't be an ongoing embarrassment?

That the question is still in doubt reflects the devolution of both the Republican Party in California and the state's media establishment, which seems no longer able to muster up a serious polling effort.

Here's a few sentences I wrote several weeks ago: "Fortunately for Kashkari's faded hopes, Donnelly doesn't have any money to speak of. So it's not impossible to catch him. But probably not with the amounts Kashkari has aggregated so far."

Since then, Kashkari has quadrupled the $500K in personal funds he'd put into his campaign. And late last Wednesday what looked like the cavalry finally began arriving for the former assistant U.S. Treasury secretary. An independent expenditure committee filed with the California Secretary of State, reporting an initial $415,000 generated for Californians for Kashkari for Governor. $350,000 of it is from Charlie Munger Jr., son of Warren Buffett's old billionaire business partner and frequent funder of Republican modernizers as well as a big source of the money laundered into 2012's unsuccessful efforts to defeat Jerry Brown's Prop 30 revenue initiative and promote a measure to hamstring public employee union campaign funding efforts.

And we have some public polls, too, though I don't really like them and they're all out of date.

Survey USA, a robo-poll I often malign which in this instance works for several California TV stations, provides this snapshot of California's open primary for governor: Jerry Brown 57 percent, Tim Donnelly 18 percent, Neel Kashkari 11 percent.

The more accepted Public Policy Institute of California poll has these numbers: Brown 48 percent, Donnelly 15 percent, Kashkari 10 percent.

(What accounts for Brown being nearly 10 points lower in the PPIC poll? Well, that one has Brown with only 79 percent of the Democratic vote whereas Survey USA has him with 90 percent of Democrats.)

The poll also finds overwhelming support for Brown's November initiative for a rainy day fund, with backing at a stupendous 74 percent among likely voters.

The problem with the PPIC poll is that it is taken as always, much like the Field Poll, over a whopping eight-day period, which means that in a dynamic race it is already out of date as soon as it is completed, much less when they get around to publishing it.

In this case, the poll was conducted from May 8th through May 15th, and just published late last night. That means it has data in it that is already two weeks old!

Survey USA, in contrast, is taken over a more customary three-day period, in this case concluding on May 19th. There hasn't been another Survey USA poll published since then.

There is also a new poll put out by the Hoover Institution, the longtime conservative policy center at Stanford. But that one, which just came out, suffers from the same problems as the PPIC poll, and in any event has old data.

What about the Los Angeles Times, a newspaper that in the 1990s seemed on track to joining the New York Times as one of the few great newspapers around? Well, its in-house polling operation, which strangely mirrored its then editor's predilections in downplaying the prospects of the 2003 gubernatorial recall election, not to mention the prospects of one Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger, since disappeared.

More recently, the LA Times has had a polling operation in alliance with the University of Southern California. But the director of the polling operation, USC Unruh Institute of Politics director Dan Schnur -- former communications director for then Governor Pete Wilson and Senator John McCain's 2000 presidential campaign and more recently chairman of the Fair Political Practices Commission at the end of the Schwarzenegger Administration -- is himself running for secretary of state as an independent in this election. (I'm voting for him, but it looks like he is falling short for lack of campaign funds.)

Schnur's likely return to his USC role is good news for public polling in California, if yet another sign of problems for independent candidates. But the lack of a poll in his absence is further reminder of the LA Times's devolution.

So it appears that Kashkari is at last began moving and the race for the right to lose to Brown has tightened.

Is the cavalry arriving for Kashkari in a timely manner? And will it arrive with enough resources to be make the difference? Since the initial statement, only another $30,000 has been reported.

Unless something big is happening now, that's less than a half-million dollars to take down Donnelly. With a mailer from former Governor Pete Wilson decrying his extremism and personal business and financial foibles.

If this doesn't seem like a lot, it's because it's not.

What about the candidates themselves?

Well, Donnelly still isn't raising enough money to win a hotly contested legislative seat. And Kashkari has raised, according to reports to the California Secretary of State's office, less than $90,000 in the past 10 days.

It's absolutely preposterous that the Republicans are in this situation. Donnelly should have been political roadkill early this month.

It's not like the man is a heavyweight on the right. He's no Congressman Tom McClintock, that's for sure.

McClintock would get his clock cleaned by Brown, too, but he doesn't make psychotic claims that Kashkari (as a Bush Administration official, no less!!) promoted Islamic sharia law or try to take his .45 caliber pistol on an airliner.

While McClintock is far right himself, he's not a fringe character. Donnelly is. And yet the California Republican Party convention seemed ready to endorse him, if given the chance. I've written before about the party's fateful fall 2007 convention outside Palm Springs in which it rejected the well-delivered centrist entreaties of then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who just months before had won a second landslide election as governor, in favor of the right-wing red meat of Texas Governor Rick Perry. We'll see if I have yet another occasion to examine the party's odd behavior.

Brown, meanwhile, is in cruise control. He's not polling the primary or campaigning to any real extent, sitting on a $21 million campaign war chest which he may never need to spend from. Though of course he will, at some point, to drive home both his own smashing re-election and lift the fortunes of the Democratic ticket as well as his state budget rainy day fund initiative, heavily amended from the one originally produced by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

He's in the midst of state budget negotiations now, from which the budget will emerge much as he presented it in the annual "May revise." Any hassle points for Brown in this process? Well, the state's nonpartisan Legislative Analyst Office says Brown is understating state revenues, the better to dampen new spending demands from his fellow Democrats. And not everyone is on board with his plan to use major funding from the greenhouse gas cap and trade market created as part of the landmark climate change program enacted in 2006 by Schwarzenegger to fund the controversial high-speed rail project.

Then there's the revelation that the U.S. Department of Energy, in another triumph for the Obama Administration, appears to have seriously overestimated how much oil and natural gas is available in California using current fracking technology. So a potential bonanza is at least somewhat delayed, not that Brown will ever allow the fracking moratorium that some critics on the left demand.

So into each life a little rain must fall (actually, with the state's greenhouse era drought settling in, Brown probably wants more than a little rain), but life in Mr. Brown's world is good. The mom-and-pop shop Jerry and Anne show -- the latter referring of course to the estimable and witty special counsel to the governor and first lady of California, Anne Gust Brown -- continues to roll on to great effect.

We'll see how much better things might get, at least for them, on Tuesday.

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