BURLINGAME, Calif. — A conservative state assemblyman and gun rights enthusiast was the crowd favorite among the party faithful on Sunday as the Republican candidates seeking to challenge Gov. Jerry Brown for the governorship addressed delegates at the state party's convention in the San Francisco Bay Area and promised to get the government out of their way.
Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, of the San Bernardino County community of Twin Peaks, said he would have the state "frack our way to prosperity," cut taxes and reduce regulations as he called Brown "a Marxist progressive parading as a Democrat."
"On my first day as governor, I will declare a moratorium on all new laws that contain restrictions on your freedom, on your business and on your constitutional civil rights," Donnelly, 47, said to cheers from a crowd waving his campaign signs.
Dan Newman, a political spokesman for Brown, declined to comment on Donnelly's characterization of him.
Former U.S. Treasury official Neel Kashkari, a political newcomer and moderate, was more conversational in his address and also received applause after spending the weekend introducing himself to delegates.
On Sunday he said he would cancel California's planned $68 billion high-speed rail system, invest in more water storage and that he wants to unite Republicans and help candidates for the state Assembly and Senate raise money.
"We as Republicans are really good at shooting at one another," Kashkari said. "We shoot at one another, the Democrats stand back, they wait till we're done firing and then they steamroll us. If we are united, we can go take the fight to Sacramento."
Kashkari, 40, a Laguna Beach resident who is best known as the former U.S. Treasury official who oversaw the bank bailout at the start of the Great Recession, has already raised more than $1.2 million since announcing his bid in January, much of it from people with ties to the financial industry.
Donnelly spent more than $350,000 last year but has raised just $212,000 so far this year.
Under California's top-two primary, in which the two highest vote-getters advance to the November election, the candidates need to woo voters beyond the Republican base, however, including the more than one-fifth of California voters who are not affiliated with any political party.
Challenging Brown will be difficult for any candidate. The popular governor, who is 75, has already raised nearly $18 million in his re-election bid and has support from well-organized labor unions.
Democrats also hold every statewide office, and GOP officials have said they intend to focus on races for Congress, the state Assembly and the state Senate this year.
Some moderate Republicans worry that if Donnelly is the nominee, he could hurt other GOP candidates on the ballot because of his conservative positions on social issues and history as a former Minuteman who patrolled the U.S. border with Mexico. He has tried to shift focus away from social issues during his gubernatorial bid.
He joked about that, saying Sunday that "the only kind of immigration I want to talk about is a tsunami of U-Hauls leaving Rick Perry's Texas and coming back home to California."
Party Vice Chairwoman Harmeet Dhillon said although Donnelly may have ignited activists this weekend, it's far from certain that he will be the party's nominee. The party did not endorse any candidates in races where there is more than one Republican candidate.
"With the growing number of decline-to-state voters in California, with the growing number of voters who are rejecting what the Democratic Party has to offer, that center is certainly up for grabs, and you know the one closest to that may have a better chance with voters," she said. "But that's for the voters to decide."
Two other Republicans who are seeking to challenge Brown also addressed the crowd on Sunday. Andrew Blount, the mayor of Laguna Hills, said he is focused on eliminating unnecessary regulations, and Glenn Champ, who called himself a "Christian soldier," vowed to clean up the state capital.
The delegates who attend GOP conventions are among the most conservative of the party's activists, and they clearly favored Donnelly on Sunday.
Despite sliding registration that has seen the GOP fall below 29 percent support in California, Republicans were in a celebratory mood this weekend after electing a Republican mayor of San Diego, Kevin Faulconer, and winning a hard-fought special election in the Central Valley, electing state Sen. Andy Vidak.
The party has also paid off massive debts, allowing party treasurer Mike Osborn to deliver a short financial report: "We've got money."