College Republican Wants to Bring 'Intellectual Diversity' to Deep Blue East Bay Assembly Race

UC Berkeley sophomore Pranav Jandhyala, a Republican running for Assembly in the 15th District. (Guy Marzorati/KQED)

This story is part of a weekly series of profiles of candidates running for the 15th Assembly District. You can see all the profiles and news about this race here.

It may seem like the ultimate waving of a white flag for Republicans in the liberal East Bay — the only GOP candidate running for State Assembly is a college sophomore.

Running a competitive race would be an uphill climb for any Republican, as only six percent of registered voters in the 15th district identify with the party.

So Pranav Jandhyala's experience as a Republican on the liberal campus of UC Berkeley may be the perfect precursor for what he faces in this race.

"Being a Republican on campus has taught me a lot about resilience and perseverance," Jandhyala said. "I've been like harassed, stalked as a member of the College Republicans, and if you don't stand up for your beliefs, you're sacrificing a lot more."

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He added that threats are the least of what he's faced in the nearly two years he's been at Berkeley.

Last February, a planned speech by right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos sparked protests on campus, and Jandhyala says he was attacked by demonstrators.

"They started beating me up with fists and sticks, and I was on the ground for maybe ten, twenty seconds," he said. "It was the longest twenty seconds of my life."

The campus paper that Jandhyala edited, the Berkeley Patriot, was later criticized for attempting to bring Yiannopoulos back to campus last fall.

The campus protests  pushed him to start BridgeUSA, a group that aims to unite political divisions on college campuses.

Political moderation is what Jandhyala sees as the path out of the woods for Republicans in the Bay Area. He points to GOP Assemblywoman Catharine Baker, who has won election twice in the neighboring 16th district (where Democrats have a registration advantage), as a model.

Jandhyala says the value Republicans in this region should espouse is "practicality."

"It's looking at issues rationally and not being so quick to emotion," he added.

Jandhyala applauded the Republicans in the Assembly, including Baker, who worked with the Democratic majority on environmental legislation last year. He also thinks Republicans can run in this region on criminal justice issues.

"I'm for rehabilitation. I want to be smart on crime, but also tough on crime," said Jandhyala, who believes the latter value could even draw support in liberal Berkeley. "I can't tell you how many times I've heard a friend tell me they're scared to walk to class or scared to walk home."

But while Baker has fought off Democratic challengers in the more purple Tri-Valley area, the "R" next to Jandhyala's name on the ballot is likely to be a scarlet letter to voters in Oakland and Berkeley. Democrats have a 60-point registration advantage in the 15th district.

At the very least, Jandhyala hopes to put his Democratic opponents through some intellectual sparring before one of them likely heads off to the (slightly) more politically divided Capitol. At forums, he's been the lone voice on stage pushing back against issues that unite the rest of the field, such as support  for single-payer healthcare.

"I want to be able to challenge that," he said. "I want to give voters who might not believe in this Democratic status quo an option."

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