GOP Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, center, gets a tour of the Darafeev furniture… (Al Seib, Los Angeles Times )
The 2014 gubernatorial campaign officially began Tuesday, with tea party favorite Tim Donnelly, a Republican assemblyman from the Inland Empire, announcing that he is running for governor.
"I want to let Jerry Brown know that … not only are we coming for him, but the people of the state of California are coming for their freedom back," Donnelly said, flanked by his wife, three of their five children and dozens of supporters at a sawdust-covered furniture factory in Baldwin Park.
"We are going to take it back in 2014!" the lawmaker said.
Donnelly cited California's rates of poverty, unemployment and taxation to argue that Brown, who has governed as a moderate, does not deserve another term.
"This epic experiment in socialism under Jerry Brown has been an epic fail," he said. "You know we need to get California working again. We need to unleash California's prosperity by getting government out of the way. We need to liberate California from oppressive taxes and regulations."
Donnelly, a former Minuteman border patrol leader who was detained at LA/Ontario Airport last year after a loaded gun was found in his carry-on, is an unabashed social conservative popular among the most conservative GOP stalwarts.
The sole candidate to announce a challenge to Brown, Donnelly plans to embark Wednesday on a bus tour to the Central Valley and Sacramento.
The governor has not said publicly whether he will seek reelection but is widely expected to do so —- and already has a $12-million war chest. Donnelly, in his most recent financial disclosures, reported having $27,000 on hand.
Brown's fundraising strength is one reason that any challenger faces an uphill battle. Another is the governor's popularity in a state that increasingly tilts Democratic — one whose voters have not elected a Republican statewide since 2006.
Donnelly "has enormous hurdles to overcome, not the least of which is … a lot of his views are really out of the mainstream of most Californians," said Beth Miller, a GOP consultant who advised Republican Carly Fiorina in her unsuccessful 2010 Senate run.
Democrats, who gleefully dismissed Donnelly's prospects against Brown, agreed. "He's a fringe candidate and proud of it," said Dan Newman, a political spokesman for the governor.
Among the policy priorities Donnelly highlighted Tuesday were an increase in offshore oil drilling and opposition to gun-control efforts.
Polls by USC and the Los Angeles Times have found that more Californians oppose new drilling than support it, and that state voters overwhelmingly favor strict gun controls, such as background checks for all firearm purchases and tightened penalties for the illegal purchase or use of a gun.
In an interview, Donnelly dismissed polls showing consistently that voters view Brown favorably.
"Everywhere I go, I talk to people, I can't find anyone who's happy," Donnelly said. "People keep saying he's picking my pocket, he's taking more of my wages and what do I get? The schools are perpetually underfunded."
He said his key to victory is conservatives who sat out the 2010 election, dissatisfied with GOP gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman, and voters who supported Brown but have been disappointed by his tenure.
In his speech, Donnelly highlighted what is expected to be a centerpiece of his campaign: A promise to improve the economic climate and decrease regulations to retain businesses and spur job creation.
"We need to make California the sexiest place to do business," Donnelly, who is among the most frequent and inflammatory speakers on the Assembly floor, says in a campaign video released Tuesday. "Because right now the only thing sexy to me in California is my wife."
He also called for redirecting more education dollars to classrooms and slashed at Brown's prison realignment policy, which is intended to reduce prison crowding by confining many nonviolent offenders in local jails rather than state prisons.
Prison policy has been a focus of another possible gubernatorial candidate, former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado. On Tuesday, Maldonado's camp released a video with footage of Maldonado at his central coast ranch and with Republican volunteers, voters and elected officials across Southern California.
Maldonado describes an exchange with a cook at a restaurant: "People in Sacramento say things are better," he told the cook. "He looked at me and said, 'No they're not….We need a complete change.' "
Also weighing a bid is Neel Kashkari, a former official with the Treasury Department who has never held elected office.
Newman called the potential Republican field "a comically ragtag collection of outcasts and misfits."
"I hear the GOP debates will be held at the bar from 'Star Wars,' " he said.
Times staff writer Anthony York contributed to this report.