Republican Neel Kashkari has gained ground on rival Tim Donnelly in the race for governor in recent days, aided by $2 million of his own money and support from establishment Republicans.
But the GOP's most conservative crowds remain problematic for Kashkari, who is repeatedly asked to explain his moderate social views and vote for Barack Obama in 2008.
When Kashkari took the podium at a lunch in Fresno on Thursday, a Donnelly volunteer was in the audience to press the case.
"How do I handle this with my child, when someone is calling themselves a Republican?" said Gina Wallace, who teaches political science at Fresno State. "How do I explain to him, 'It's OK, he voted, he voted for Obama."
Kashkari said, "To me, being a Republican is about personal responsibility, and it's about fiscal responsibility, and it's about economic growth."
Donnelly, a tea party candidate who also addressed the crowd, was unimpressed with Kashkari's answer.
"I think people want to know what your record is," he said. "I think they're going to vote based on what your record is."