Abel Maldonado drops out of California governor's race

Former state senator and lieutenant governor, facing a rocky start to his campaign, says he plans to support conservative causes and spend more time with family

mfountain@thetribunenews.comJanuary 16, 2014 

At an emotional news conference, Abel Maldonado announced Thursday that he is withdrawing his bid for governor.

It marked his second consecutive failed attempt at public office since he lost a campaign to keep his appointed seat as lieutenant governor in 2010.

Speaking to reporters outside the doors of Santa Maria City Hall, the one-time state senator said he is looking forward to spending time with his family and gathering support for his many conservative causes as a private citizen.

“Today, I’m withdrawing my candidacy for governor of California,” Maldonado said at the briefing. “Now is my time to step away.”

The Maldonado campaign sent out a news release late Wednesday stating that he would make a “major announcement,” but his staffers would not elaborate ahead of the event, leading to speculation about his impending withdrawal.

On Thursday, the Santa Maria native looked back on his time in public office and noted his successes, namely leading support of the state’s open primary ballot measure, Proposition 14, in 2010.

Then he turned to what he sees as the struggles of people across California.

“People are hurting. People with no jobs, or people on unemployment,” Maldonado said to a group consisting mainly of longtime supporters and media. “I’ve traveled up and down this state, and I tell you, it’s been an eye-opening experience.”

“I’m going to continue to help them as a private citizen,” he said. “Now is my time to step away and stay home.”

Choking back tears, he introduced members of his family, who stood to his left and who also unsuccessfully tried to hold back their emotions.

Maldonado’s exit leaves state Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, known as a more conservative candidate, as the only Republican challenging Democratic incumbent Gov. Jerry Brown.

Neel Kashkari, a former U.S. Treasury Department official, is likely to declare his candidacy soon. Laguna Hills Mayor Andrew Blount has said he is considering running.

No Republican is expected to unseat Brown in this heavily Democratic state, but Maldonado was once thought likeliest to advance to the runoff against him in November.

Many Republicans believed fielding Maldonado, a moderate Latino, could improve the diminished party’s standing with Latino voters in an increasingly diverse state.

But Maldonado’s support for temporary tax increases while in the Legislature alienated conservatives, and his campaign was hurt by missteps from the start.

When he introduced an initiative to repeal California’s controversial prison realignment program, he came under fire for using a photograph of an inmate as a poster child for the initiative although the inmate’s sentence was never affected by realignment.

Then, after finishing the first half of last year in debt, Maldonado and his original team of advisers split. Maldonado assembled a new group of advisers, including Ron Nehring, the former California Republican Party chairman, and he presented the team at the state GOP convention in the fall.

In exiting the race, Maldonado records his third straight political failure. The former state lawmaker lost his campaign for a seat in Congress in 2012 and, two years before that, his bid to keep his appointed post as lieutenant governor.

David Siders of the Sacramento Bee contributed to this report.

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