Former Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado dropped out of this year's gubernatorial race Thursday, ending an eight-month campaign that never gained momentum.
"After having traveled all over the state and giving it my all, I have concluded that now is not my time," the moderate Republican said at a news conference in his hometown of Santa Maria.
"It's time to step away for a while and spend more time with my family and stay a little closer to home helping my community, as an active private citizen," he said. "This by no means suggests that I am giving up, or giving in. I love my country, and I love my state. But it's just time for me to take a break and focus more of my time on being a full-time dad and husband."
Maldonado, 46, launched his campaign awkwardly last May, attacking Gov. Jerry Brown's prison realignment policy by citing a case that wasn't actually affected by that policy. In October, he went to the state GOP convention touting a rebooted campaign staff and message, yet no boost ever materialized.
That's probably because parts of his party have deemed him a pariah, both for striking a tax-raising budget deal with Democrats while serving in the state Senate and for fathering a successful ballot measure to make the top-two primary system a reality.
Maldonado had hoped the top-two primary -- in which all voters choose from among candidates of all parties, with the two top vote-getters advancing to the general election -- would let him evade his GOP naysayers and go mano-a-mano with Brown in November.
But while Maldonado -- who never won a statewide election, having been appointed lieutenant governor by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger after Maldonado's predecessor, Democrat John Garamendi, was elected to Congress -- didn't need to win a traditional Republican primary; he did need to win over the party's donors.
At that, he proved unable. He had raised about $314,000 and had about $44,600 as of June 30, but his outstanding debts left him a few thousand dollars in the red, and he has raised only about $148,800 since then. Meanwhile, Brown had more than $10 million banked by midyear and has raised at least $6.9 million more since.
"It doesn't take a genius to know his campaign was going nowhere fast," said Larry Gerston, a political expert at San Jose State University. "Clearly, this race was not meant to be for him."
That doesn't mean he has no political future, Gerston cautioned. Should the GOP eventually realize that its mostly white, far-right bench is becoming less and less likely to win statewide office in solidly blue California, he said, "Maldonado may be someone to turn to in the future."
Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, a tea party favorite, remains in the race. And former Assistant U.S. Treasury Secretary Neel Kashkari, also a Republican, is expected to announce his candidacy soon.
Donnelly issued a statement Thursday thanking Maldonado for his service to the state and wishing him and his family well. But Donnelly noted that his goal "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."
Brown still hasn't officially announced his re-election bid, but political observers consider it a given.
California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton issued a statement saying Maldonado "saw the writing on the wall and did the smart thing," given Brown's and the Democrat-controlled Legislature's success in balancing the budget and setting California on the road to economic recovery.
"It's no surprise," Burton said, "that Republicans are taking a look at the landscape and deciding they don't have much to run on."