SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The campaign manager for a Republican state lawmaker running for California governor announced that she had quit the campaign just days before the state Republican convention, although Assemblyman Tim Donnelly characterized the split as "a mutual thing," saying he was merely caught off guard by the timing.
"We're running a full bore, 100 percent grassroots campaign and it wasn't a good fit for either of us," Donnelly said in a phone interview Wednesday night, describing his operating style as "controlled chaos."
Jennifer Kerns said in an email sent Wednesday that she had left Donnelly's campaign but she was proud of her work on it.
"I love that and I don't think it fit Jennifer that well," said Donnelly, a conservative former minuteman from the San Bernardino County community of Twin Peaks.
Kerns' departure comes after she appeared in a lengthy promotional video released in January in which she said working for him was "freaking awesome." Donnelly stood with Kerns and his wife in the video and said, "They say beside every good man is a great woman. I've got two."
He touted her role on the campaign as a reason to support him, saying "I would not want to go to war against this woman."
Donnelly said Wednesday that in retrospect, it was a mistake to feature Kerns so prominently in his campaign.
"I think that was the only stumble that we really made in this whole thing," he said. "If she decides she wants to go do something else with her life, that becomes a news story."
Donnelly, a tea party favorite and vocal gun rights advocate, has previously drawn scrutiny for fumbles. He pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges in 2012 after security screeners found a loaded Colt .45 in his carry-on bag at Ontario International Airport. He was fined $2,125 and placed on three years' probation. A police report said the handgun was not registered to him.
Donnelly said rumors that he is legally barred from owning a weapon are "a bunch of nonsense."
"If I wasn't able to legally possess a gun then that probably would have been determined when my whole court issue came up," he said Wednesday. "I am a staunch supporter of the 2nd Amendment and there are no restrictions or limitations on my ability to exercise that. You know, short of what's in my probation which at some point is going to run out."
He said the probation that runs through March 2015 bars him from borrowing someone else's gun and taking it home. Donnelly was criticized for a campaign appearance last month at a gun range, where he shot a weapon that did not belong to him. He said he did not violate his probation in doing so.
The head of California's legislative Jewish Caucus, Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego, last week asked Donnelly to apologize for comparing President Barack Obama's gun control policies to those of dictators such as Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and North Korea's Kim Jong Il in a post on Twitter. Instead, Donnelly repeated and defended the comments.
Kerns touted the campaign's achievements in her announcement.
"I'm proud to have taken a candidate from the launch of a campaign as an unknown, underdog candidate to frontrunner status in the polls, as well as having cleared the field of our closest GOP competitor," Kerns said, referring to the January departure of former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado.
Donnelly and former U.S. Treasury official Neel Kashkari are the chief Republicans challenging Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, in California's first top-two primary for governor in June. Brown is expected to advance easily to the November race.
Still, the loss of his campaign manager just days ahead of the meeting of party activists is a setback for a campaign that has struggled to raise money. The convention offers one of the best opportunities for candidates to make their case to hundreds of would-be volunteers and supporters.
Kerns hinted at further trouble, saying that a filmmaker who produced videos for the campaign also has departed, but Donnelly said the videographer's contract was not renewed because the campaign hired someone more affordable. He said he is already in talks with candidates to replace Kerns.
"You know what? I was already interviewing other people on both the communications side and the campaign managerial side," Donnelly said.