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'$700 billion man' explores public office

Neel Kashkari, a former assistant Treasury secretary and TARP administrator, thinks he can reform a struggling Republican Party in California.
/ Source: MSNBC TV

Neel Kashkari, a former assistant Treasury secretary and TARP administrator, thinks he can reform a struggling Republican Party in California.

A cool $700 billion seems like it would be an asset to any political candidate—but for Neel Kashkari it could be his biggest stumbling block. 

The former assistant treasury secretary is best known for overseeing the controversial Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) after the 2008 financial crash. Appointed by President George W. Bush, he continued to serve in the Obama administration, but now he’s eyeing a different job—running for governor as a Republican in blue-state California. 

Kashkari’s interest in political office was first reported this week by Politico, and he confirmed his interest in an interview Thursday with the San Francisco Chronicle

A pro-choice, pro-gay marriage Republican who supported Obama in 2008, he could well face as many problems simply getting the nomination in a state Republican Party that’s been beset by turmoil as he would trying to defeat incumbent Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown. 

Kashkari is touting his unconventional approach as he weighs his first bid for elective office – the former Goldman Sachs executive has spent the night in homeless shelters, worked alongside field workers, visited churches and reached out to political donors and mentors, citing former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and former Gov. Jeb Bush among his political role models. 

“My focus is different from most candidates that we’ve seen, not just in California but around the country,” Kashkari told the Chronicle in his first interview. “If we were to do this, we would run a campaign that is truly reaching out to people that Republicans don’t normally talk to.”

If the GOP wants to be competitive again statewide, that may be the strategy they need to adopt. A USC/ released this week showed the Republicans far behind their Democratic counterparts in competing for younger and minority voters in an increasingly diverse and growing Golden State. 

Kashkari wouldn’t be the only Republican in the primary though– former moderate Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado and Tea Party-backed Assemblyman Tim Donnelly have already announced, and former Rep. George Radonovich is also weighing a bid. 

While Brown’s approval ratings were high in a USC Dornsife/ this week, that may not translate into votes – just 32% said they were inclined to vote for a fourth term for Brown in 2014. Elected again in 2010, Brown also served two terms as governor from 1975 to 1983. 

But could TARP be Kashkari’s undoing in both a primary and general election? Tea Party and conservative Republicans balked at the Wall Street bailout, and it’s also something Democrats would easily exploit against him, too. 

Kashkari told the Chronicle he didn’t regret the decisions the administration made in taking on the $700 billion bailout, calling it necessary to avoid a complete economic meltdown. 

“We got all the money back, and we made a $49 billion profit off of the banks on behalf of the taxpayers,” he told the newspaper. “I would argue tackling the worst economic crisis in 80 years, working for two different presidents, was pretty good training..People say you can’t get Republicans and Democrats to work together - but that’s what they told us in Washington, too. And if we had listened to them, we’d be in the Great Depression.”