The latest statewide public poll in the race for governor suggests that Kashkari, the newcomer who's been blasting Gov. Jerry Brown and promising a transformation of the Republican Party, may be running out of options -- not so unlike the Starfleet cadets who learn the hard way that, sometimes, there's nothing to do but retreat.
If there's a way to beat this scenario, then cadet -- candidate -- Kashkari is running out of time to find it.
Reading the tea leaves is always a dangerous practice in a poll, which simply catches voters at a moment in time. This poll sampled opinions of Californians in the roughly 10-day period after what was likely the only gubernatorial debate between the two men. If there was going to be a bump in support for Kashkari, who most pundits think did well in that hourlong conversation, it would seem that it should show up here.
PPIC finds strong to overwhelming support for the veteran Democrat among just about every subgroup of voters -- from an 11-point edge over Kashkari with men to a 55-point dominance over the GOP candidate with Latinos. Even in the solidly Republican Inland Empire, Brown holds a 4-point plurality lead over Kashkari.
The Republican is also failing to win over self-described moderates, 60 percent of which in this poll say they're voting for Brown. And even as Kashkari has preached that the governor is failing on the issue of poverty, 64 percent of poll respondents who earn less than $40,000 a year are backing Brown.
And rubbing maybe a little more salt in the wound: Jerry Brown, the scion of a Democratic family, is the choice for governor of almost one in five Republicans and 26 percent of self-described conservatives.
There's been no secret that Kashkari faced very long odds from the start, and it's been a tough slog for the young, articulate former assistant U.S. Treasury secretary. Brown was sitting on $22.3 million in his campaign war chest as of late June, and has since raised about another $1.2 million; Kashkari has raised about $990,000 in the last three months and began the period with only $198,000 in the bank.
You can't win a statewide race in California with that kind of money, especially when the new poll shows 55 percent of likely voters think Brown is doing a good job as governor, including about three in 10 likely Republican voters.
The new poll numbers suggest Brown could be on the verge of cruising to victory on Election Day, absent some very unexpected development. Almost exactly eight years ago, then-incumbent Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was ahead of an outmatched Democratic challenger Phil Angelides by 17 points in a PPIC poll -- the same margin by which Schwarzenegger won that fall. Also worth noting: No sitting governor on California has lost a race for re-election since … well ... Jerry Brown's father, the late Gov. Pat Brown, lost to Ronald Reagan in 1966.
Neel Kashkari has faced another big challenge: unifying the uber-marginalized GOP behind his candidacy, most recently at last weekend's state Republican convention in Los Angeles. But the gathering was somewhat overshadowed by news that two prominent statewide GOP candidates -- Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, who's running for state controller, and secretary of state hopeful Pete Peterson -- declined to endorse Kashkari for governor. And in PPIC's new poll, 43 percent of Republicans surveyed say they are not satisfied with their choices in the gubernatorial election.
If there is a window of opportunity for Kashkari in his quest to send Jerry Brown packing, it's going to be very small. The governor is only days away from wrapping up his work signing or vetoing bills sent to his desk, a low-profile schedule that has not hurt him in the polls. Many expect the campaign events Brown will do -- if any -- may be more focused on Proposition 1, this fall's $7 billion water bond (which has 58 percent support in the new poll), and Proposition 2, the budget reserve proposal he helped craft (which is flailing in the PPIC poll with only 43 percent support). That kind of campaign strategy may make Brown an elusive target, even as Kashkari continues to launch broadsides ridiculing Brown as a son of privilege.
Back to "Star Trek." The Kobayashi Maru, as fans know, was a test designed to build character -- a learning experience. Given how many people wonder whether Neel Kashkari is running in 2014 more to build a brand for future campaigns than win this one, it seems a reasonable analogy.