The Republican says a swath of California voters made up of disaffected Democrats and independents will respond to his message.

By Seema Mehta
February 11, 2014, 5:23 p.m.

WATSONVILLE, Calif. — Tim Donnelly aimed a Glock 19 at a paper target, the image of a zombie dressed as a British Redcoat, and fired.

All but one of 15 rounds hit their mark. The Republican gubernatorial candidate, taking practice with a handful of gun aficionados as he campaigned in Northern California, was pleased.

“That was fun,” said Donnelly, an assemblyman from the Inland Empire. “He is one dead Redcoat.”

The pierced target was a fitting symbol for the gun rights advocate and tea party favorite, who says his first run for office was inspired by the same fears of tyranny that stirred the colonists to rise up against the British.

Like the colonists, Donnelly is hoping his scrappy, underfunded campaign — one that is, at best, quixotic — can defeat far better armed and more sophisticated establishment forces.

His kitted-out campaign bus sports the slogan “Patriot Not Politician.” His audiences are tiny, and he’s mostly preaching to the choir. But on the second day of a 40-city bus tour that kicked off last week, Donnelly, in his omnipresent cowboy hat and black Assembly jacket, said he was thrilled at the turnout.

“I was really blown away by the support,” he said, greeting about a dozen voters at an oceanside park in Monterey. “I’m not Arnold Schwarzenegger. I’m not going to get 3,000 people.”

He also lacks money, reporting only about $54,000 in campaign cash in his most recent disclosures. Donnelly collected $374,000 in 2013; rival Republican Neel Kashkari raised $900,000 in two weeks in January.

Donnelly, 47, has been trying to compensate by taking his case directly to voters, meeting supporters in “Got Liberty?” T-shirts at GOP dinners and mixers, at gun ranges and gas stations, since he announced his run last fall. The person-to-person effort, a strategy that has helped propel candidates to victory in smaller venues such as the Iowa caucuses, is a steep uphill battle in a state of 38 million.

Add to that the state’s cobalt blue tilt and incumbent Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown’s $17-million war chest, and many Republicans have abandoned hope of taking back the governor’s seat.

Donnelly, who is perhaps best known for being caught with a handgun at airport security, denies the naysayers.

“There’s something in the air,” he said after leaving Pebble Beach golf course, where he met with a nonprofit that helps disabled veterans. Californians are frustrated, he said: Many are still hurting, and people want government out of their lives.

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