ANAHEIM - As California Republicans gather this weekend for their biannual convention, Abel Maldonado has ensconced himself at the party hotel, telling anyone who will listen - reporters, party activists, busboys - he can beat Gov. Jerry Brown next year.
It is a difficult case to make. The former lieutenant governor, who has lost his last two campaigns for office, finished the first half of the year in debt, and he and his original team of strategists split.
But Maldonado, who announced a new group of advisers ahead of the convention, said in an interview Friday, "My campaign has never been in better shape than it is today."
He has invited delegates to a "campaign briefing" on Saturday afternoon.
Brown, who is about to surpass Earl Warren as California's longest-serving governor, has not yet said if he will seek re-election, but the Democratic governor has raised more than $10 million for the effort. Even among Republicans, he is widely considered likely to win.
Maldonado, a former state lawmaker and farmer from Santa Maria, described his campaign as an "uphill battle."
"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that when you run against an incumbent governor who's been elected and in office, the longest serving governor in the history of California ... it's going to be an uphill battle."
Maldonado is coming off two election losses, most recently for a seat in Congress and before that to retain the lieutenant governorship to which he was appointed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2010.
Maldonado said his fundraising effort "could be doing better" but that "it's tough to raise money right now."
He said, "We're going to have a campaign that reflects the resources that we have."
Maldonado said he asked a busboy at a restaurant here to donate $1, and that the busboy did.
"That's retail, hardcore politics," Maldonado said.
Maldonado noted that some better-funded candidates, such as Republican Meg Whitman, have been defeated despite their resources, and he alluded to President Barack Obama's 2008 election to suggest there is still time to gain momentum.
"Why don't you ask Hillary Clinton what she thinks about somebody catching fire and running a campaign that nobody discovered six or eight years ago," he said.
Maldonado has faced criticism from conservative members of the party over his support for temporary tax increases while in the Legislature.
He filmed a video inviting convention delegates to his briefing Saturday.
"You know, people ask me all the time how California Republicans can win again, especially the governor's race," he says in the invitation, which was sent by e-mail to delegates. "Will it be tough? You bet. You can count on it that it's going to be tough. But you know what? We can win. And I want to show you how."
PHOTO: Abel Maldonado speaks to reporters in Sacramento on May 8, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua