By Associated Press - Tuesday, April 29, 2014

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a potential contender for the party’s 2016 presidential nomination, is endorsing Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari.

The endorsement, announced Tuesday, adds to the list of establishment GOP politicians seeking to bolster Kashkari’s fledgling campaign just weeks ahead of California’s June 3 primary.

Kashkari “has the vision and the drive to reject the status quo and usher in a new era of opportunity for the state’s families and communities,” Bush said in a statement released by Kashkari’s campaign.

The former U.S. Treasury official and Goldman Sachs banker is best known for helping lead the federal bank bailout at the height of the recession in 2008. Bush said Kashkari “demonstrated a unique ability to bring people together to achieve success” during the crisis.

Bush’s praise comes a day after Kashkari announced endorsements from 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, former California Gov. Pete Wilson and Rep. Darrell Issa.

The establishment backing highlights the distinction between Kashkari and his chief GOP rival, state Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, who enjoys support from gun-rights advocates and tea party activists.

The top two vote-getters in June will advance to the November primary regardless of party affiliation. Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat seeking re-election, is expected to win the top spot, making the contest a battle for second place.

Kashkari has trailed Donnelly by double digits in recent public opinion polls.

Bush angered conservatives recently when he described illegal immigration in an interview as an “act of love” by people trying to provide for their families. Kashkari said he agrees with Bush’s position on immigration, another sharp contrast with Donnelly, who previously patrolled the U.S.-Mexico border as a so-called minuteman searching for people trying to enter the country illegally.

Donnelly said Tuesday that Bush’s endorsement showed questionable judgment for a potential GOP presidential candidate since Kashkari has acknowledged that he voted for President Barack Obama in 2008.

“You’ve got the political class circling the wagons trying to protect their power,” Donnelly said of the string of establishment endorsements for Kashkari. “I think it says that they would rather lose the race with Kashkari than actually get behind a serious effort to defeat Jerry Brown, who has been the greatest threat to our future in California.”

Also Tuesday, another Republican on the June ballot, Laguna Hills Mayor Andrew Blount, announced that he is dropping out of the governor’s race due to health issues, saying he is “unable to put forth the energy necessary to continue the race.”

Blount ranked a distant third in a recent Field Poll, essentially tied with Kashkari, and had not received any outside contributions to his campaign.

Blount’s name will remain on the ballot since the secretary of state already certified the field of candidates.

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