Neel Kashkari, the former U.S. Treasury Department official who has been preparing to run for governor for a year, formally entered the contest Tuesday, pledging to improve public education and the jobs climate in California.
"That's my platform: Jobs and education," Kashkari said at a business luncheon at Sacramento State. "Jobs and education. That's it."
In declaring his candidacy, Kashkari, 40, joins Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, as the only Republicans actively campaigning to unseat Gov. Jerry Brown. Former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado abandoned his campaign last week.
"Millions of Californians are struggling," Kashkari said. "The status quo is unacceptable."
Kashkari's entrance into the race was widely expected. He left his job at Newport Beach-based Pacific Investment Management Co. a year ago, hired political advisers and spent recent months meeting with potential donors and giving newspaper interviews.
His viability as a candidate remains an open question, as he will only now begin to raise money and test his moderate social views with GOP donors and the party's base. Kashkari has never run for elected office and has said he cannot self-finance the effort.
Unseating Brown in this heavily Democratic state would be a tough task for a Republican, analysts believe, and raising money against him has proven to be exceedingly difficult. Donnelly has reported raising just more than $200,000, while Brown has raised more than $17 million.
Kashkari, a former Goldman Sachs executive, ran the $700 billion bank bailout known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program during former President George W. Bush's administration. He has said he will make poverty and education the focus of his campaign.
Announcing his candidacy at a luncheon at Sacramento State, Kashkari said the state's public education system is failing its students and leaving millions of residents in poverty.
"We have to grow the economy and create jobs," he said, "and give kids a good education at the same time."
Kashkari joins a long list of Republicans complaining about California's high poverty rate. Last fall, the U.S. Census Bureau reported a poverty rate in California of 23.8 percent, using an alternative calculation that includes cost of living, and the large number of Californians who are unemployed or marginally employed and looking for work.
Kashkari also criticized California's $68 billion high-speed rail project, garnering applause when he called the controversial project a "crazy train."
Democrats have painted Kashkari as a wealthy product of the private sector who had little interest in California politics before deciding to run for governor.
Kashkari, of Orange County, spent much of last year traveling the state, promoting his appearances at food banks and community centers on Twitter.
Kashkari's appearance Tuesday was his first speech since leaving his job at Pacific Investment Management Co. He had fueled speculation he would make his announcement there when, in an interview last week, he billed the appearance as a "major speech."
Kashkari supports same-sex marriage and abortion rights and voted for Barack Obama in 2008. He has opposed tax increases and supported efforts to limit the political influence of labor unions.
Brown, a third-term Democrat, has not yet said if he will seek re-election, but in addition to his fundraising he has hinted he will, and he is widely expected to run.
PHOTO: Neel Kashkari speaks at an interview with The Associated Press in Sacramento on Dec. 4, 2013. AP Photo/ Rich Pedroncelli