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Can Neel Kashkari Do for California What He Did for Wall Street?

By Deborah Solomon
January 24, 2013 11:31 AM EST

In 2010, several members of Congress lost their re-election bids as a result of voting for the $700-billion financial bailout.

Now the man who led the Office of Financial Stability in 2008 and 2009, the Treasury official most closely associated with the Troubled Asset Relief Program, is weighing his own run for office. As the Wall Street Journal reports, Neel Kashkari -- better known as the $700-billion man -- is leaving his current position at Pacific Investment Management Co. to explore a political career in California. Kashkari, a Republican who hails from Ohio, hasn't indicated what office he may seek, but some suggest he has his eye on the governor's office -- and he's already created a campaign-style web site.

That Kashkari would entertain a political career may not come as a surprise to those who know him -- he's self-confident, smart (he was once a rocket scientist), and isn't one to shy away from a challenge. He's also taken his share of shellacking on Capitol Hill -- he was famously asked by a lawmaker whether he was a "chump" and was grilled for hours -- all without breaking a sweat (or taking a bathroom break).

Yet California's politics may be tougher than Washington's, and it's unclear how the architect of the much-maligned bailout will fare, particularly as a Republican in a Democratic state. Kashkari realizes TARP was "unpopular," he told the Journal, but defended it as "the best example we have in modern history of Democrats and Republicans coming together to do something controversial but absolutely necessary and absolutely successful."

The experiences of former Senators Robert Bennett of Utah and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, as well as former Representative Robert Inglis of South Carolina -- all of whom lost their seats as a result of their TARP votes -- suggest that Kashkari's perception may be a little warped. Still, you have to give the guy credit for transcending the pure political anger directed toward him to try and improve his adopted home state.

He should just be sure to avoid promising "a bailout in every pot." 

(Deborah Solomon is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. Follow her on Twitter.) 

 

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