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By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, Calif., Jan 21 (Reuters) - A Republican former investment banker who oversaw efforts to mitigate the U.S. mortgage meltdown under two presidents said on Tuesday he would challenge California Governor Jerry Brown for the state's top job in 2014.
Neel Kashkari, who ran the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) for the Treasury Department under Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Barack Obama, said he would challenge Brown on a platform of creating jobs and improving education.
Brown is widely expected to seek re-election in November.
"Today, the gift of a good education and the opportunity it creates are out of reach for millions of struggling Californians. That's why I'm running for governor: to create jobs and give kids a quality education. Jobs and education. That's it. That's my platform," Kashkari said in a statement.
Wearing a black suit and red tie, Kashkari formally announced his candidacy on a ballroom stage at Sacramento State University, gesturing with his hands as he addressed attendees at a conference on the regional economy.
"Our schools, employment rate and small-business climate are ranked near the bottom, and we have the highest poverty rate in the country," he said. "The status quo our leaders defend is absolutely devastating for millions of our neighbors."
Brown, who is serving a second round as governor in the most populous U.S. state, has been fundraising for months, but has not formally announced his candidacy. The 75-year-old, whose father was also governor, served two terms from 1975 to 1983.
Kashkari replaces former Lieutenant Governor Abel Maldonado, a moderate who dropped out of the campaign last week, as a mainstream Republican hopeful in the race.
A former Goldman Sachs banker, Kashkari most recently helped develop new initiatives at the southern California-based Pacific Investment Management Company, or PIMCO.
Kashkari may face an uphill battle against Brown, who is popular for steering the largely Democratic state on a fiscally cautious course that many credit for a turnaround in the state's finances.
Last month, a poll conducted by the Field Research Corp showed that Brown would dominate the field when pitted against four possible Republican contenders, including Kashkari.
Of registered voters surveyed by the Field Poll, 52 percent said they would choose Brown, compared with 3 percent who favored Kashkari, 11 percent who said they would vote for Maldonado and 9 percent who would pick Republican state lawmaker Tim Donnelly.
Brown has been coy about whether he will run in November, actively raising funds but resisting a formal announcement. His political adviser, Dan Newman, did not immediately return a request for comment about Kashkari's entry into the race.
"I am aware that in November of next year there will be an election," the Los Angeles Times quoting Brown as saying in November 2013. "And I will make some decisions regarding that."
Because of California's open primary system, all of the candidates for governor will appear on a primary ballot in June, and the two top vote-getters will advance to the general election in November, whatever their political affiliations. (Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, G Crosse and Ken Wills)