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Amanda Renteria for Governor? A Candidacy Generating More Questions Than Answers

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Amanda Renteria discusses her campaign for Congress with 23 ABC News in May 2014. (23 ABC News via YouTube)

The sudden entrance of former Hillary Clinton aide Amanda Renteria into the race for governor of California has inspired conspiracy theories and more than a little head-scratching.

Renteria, 43, was national political director for Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign and, until Wednesday, was chief of operations for Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who said that the day she announced her candidacy was her last day in his office.

"It's very strange for multiple reasons," said Gil Duran, Democratic campaign consultant who is not working on anyone's gubernatorial campaign.

"For one thing, it's extremely disrespectful to abandon your boss in the middle of an election to run for the office above his," Duran said. "I've never heard of anyone doing that."

Amanda Renteria for Governor? A Candidacy Generating More Questions Than Answers

Amanda Renteria for Governor? A Candidacy Generating More Questions Than Answers

Duran, who has worked for a long list of California elected officials, including Gov. Jerry Brown and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, said it also seemed Renteria was not prepared to launch a statewide campaign.


"Avoiding reporters and having nothing to say is not a precursor to a successful campaign," Duran said, adding that a smart campaign would have produced a short video to introduce her to voters and had a press event of some kind in the Central Valley, where she's from.

"The first day of a candidacy is one of the best times to make an impression because you can get the media's attention," Duran said.

Renteria did not respond to multiple requests for an interview with KQED.

A Southern California political operative familiar with Renteria's 2014 congressional campaign against Rep. David Valadao, who asked not to be named because he has relationships with several people in the race, said "she is super competitive, she doesn’t like to lose and she has a really strong work ethic."

But in that 2014 race in the Central Valley she did lose, 58 percent to 42 percent against the Republican incumbent, despite raising $1.7 million with help from top-shelf Democrats, including Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

This time around, she's clearly out of sync with the Democratic Party in California. A spokesman for the party says Renteria will not have a speaking role at the Democrats' convention in San Diego next weekend, and her name will not appear on the ballot for endorsements.

With the June primary election less than four months away, Renteria has raised no money, has little to no name recognition with voters, no endorsements and no clear path to victory.

"The problem for her is the timeline," Democratic consultant Katie Merrill said. "She’s gotten in so late it’s almost impossible to put together a credible campaign."

So why would she jump in then? Merrill thinks that, given Renteria's record of public service, her Central Valley roots, and the fact that she's a Latina with a strong political network, that she could catch fire in this era of the Me Too movement.

"Perhaps she felt jumping in late would create a kind of momentum, elevating a female campaign for governor" in a way that Delaine Eastin's campaign has not, Merrill said.

Kimberly Ellis, who ran an insurgent campaign for state Democratic Party chair last year only to lose in a bitterly close election, said she's excited to have another woman in the race.

"Her entering the race is very interesting and has the potential to shake things up a lot," said Ellis, who until recently was executive director of Emerge California, which encourages women to run for office. "I’m excited to have another woman enter the race. Having another point of view will make all the candidates better and stronger."

Given the quirky, seat-of-the-pants feel to Renteria's candidacy, speculation turned to why she got in and what impact she could have on the race. Most polls for the June primary election show Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom heading for a November runoff with former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

A recent poll from the Public Policy Institute of California showed Villaraigosa narrowing Newsom's lead. That left some political insiders to wonder if Renteria was encouraged to run by Newsom operatives in hopes of draining Latino support from Villaraigosa.

Consultant Duran dismisses that strategy, however.

"People know who Antonio Villraigosa is," Duran said. "They’re not going to say, 'Oh, here’s another Latino on the ballot, I'll vote for her.' "

Others suggested that Renteria could draw votes from Delaine Eastin, the other prominent woman running for governor. But with the former state schools superintendent at less than 5 percent support in most polls, Renteria will need more than that to have a serious impact on the race.

Scott Shafer and Marisa Lagos host Political Breakdown, a new weekly podcast and radio program on California politics. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts.

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