SACRAMENTO (AP) — Former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado abandoned his long-shot GOP bid for governor of California on Thursday as his campaign was floundering for support and failing to attract the kind of donors he would need to mount a credible challenge to Gov. Jerry Brown.
The former state senator and member of a successful Central Coast farming family held a news conference in his hometown of Santa Maria to say he was dropping out of the race and would not run for any other office this year.
"I have concluded that now is not my time," he said in prepared remarks released as he was making his formal announcement.
He said he wanted to focus "on being a full-time dad and husband" and help his daughter's venture with a new wine business. Maldonado did not directly address the problems he has had gaining traction from voters or potential campaign donors, saying instead that he believed he had the necessary qualifications to be governor if he chose to stay in the race.
Maldonado, who lost a bid for Congress in 2012, has struggled to raise money and has held few events in recent months, even as other would-be candidates ramp up their campaigns.
His exit leaves Republican state Assemblyman Tim Donnelly as the only major candidate to announce a challenge to Brown. The Democratic governor has not yet formally declared his intention to run for re-election even though he is raising millions of dollars for a campaign.
Former U.S. Treasury official Neel Kashkari, a Republican, also is considering a run.
Brown is expected to seek re-election and has amassed nearly $17 million for a potential campaign. He is considered a formidable foe for any would-be opponent.
In a statement, the California Democratic Party said Maldonado pulled out because he "saw the writing on the wall" for Republican candidates in the state.
The GOP has seen a sharp decline in voter registration over the past decade and now stands at less than 30 percent of the electorate. After years of multibillion dollar budget deficits, California is now looking at the prospect of surpluses in the years ahead.
Brown has restored billions of dollars to K-12 schools, notable because education funding consistently ranks as one of voters' top priorities.
"Californians are once more discussing investing in our future instead of cutting our way to the bottom," party Chairman John Burton said in his statement. "It's no surprise that Republicans are taking a look at the landscape and deciding they don't have much to run on."
A December poll by the Public Policy Institute of California found that half of likely voters approve of the job Brown is doing as governor. If the primary had been held then, the poll found that just 7 percent of likely voters would cast their ballot for Maldonado in the state's new top-two primary.
In addition, nearly a quarter of likely voters who are Republican have an unfavorable opinion of Maldonado, as do a similar number of independent likely voters, the poll found.
The survey results suggest that Maldonado lacks a natural constituency, complicating his efforts to generate sufficient support from likely voters.
As a Republican, he already would have a hard time appealing to Democrats, who are about 44 percent of registered voters in the state. Yet he also had become a pariah among die-hard Republicans for his support of tax increases during a 2009 budget crisis, a vote he took in exchange for the Legislature agreeing to place a new primary system before voters.
Maldonado supported a top-two primary, in which the top vote-getters move on to the general election regardless of party affiliation, believing that it would help moderates such as himself who would not have to endure the political cleansing ritual of a partisan primary fight.
Voters approved the top-two primary in 2010, but Maldonado's strategy has so far failed to pan out for him.
He has struggled to raise money since announcing his gubernatorial bid last year, collecting nearly $370,000 but spending much of it on a team of campaign consultants he later fired. He had not reported a major campaign contribution since November, according to records filed with the secretary of state's office.
Maldonado was joined by supporters at Thursday's event, including Brooks Firestone, a former GOP Assemblyman from Santa Barbara and grandson of the Firestone Tire founder, the Santa Maria Times reported.
"He is exactly what California needs and I'm sorry he's not there right now," Firestone said.
While Maldonado was losing momentum, Donnelly seemed to be gaining more traction with party stalwarts.
In the Public Policy Institute of California poll, Donnelly had more than double the support for Maldonado. In a statement issued after Maldonado pulled out, Donnelly said he offered the more distinctive contrast with Brown.
Donnelly is socially conservative, supports gun-owner rights, opposes tax increases and says the state needs to offer more incentives for companies to stay in California.
"Our goal in this primary has always been to clear the field so that we can focus on our primary opponent, Jerry Brown. With the field narrowing, we intend to continue doing just that," he said in a statement.