A Surprise Entry into the Governor’s Race

Scott Lay
Publisher of The Nooner

Yesterday, Amanda Renteria filed to run as a Democrat for governor. If the name sounds familiar, she was the Democratic nominee against David Valadao in the Democrats’ perennial target district of CA21 (Valadao). Following her loss to Valadao, she served as national political director of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Last year, the Stanford and Harvard MBA grad joined Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office as director of operations.

It’s awfully late to be starting a statewide campaign. There are only 111 days before the top two primary election. But, it builds her name recognition and she is the only candidate from the “Valley.”

What it really is, however, is a blow to Democrats Antonio Villaraigosa and Delaine Eastin. It is great news for Gavin Newsom and pretty good news for Republicans.

First let’s look at the Central Valley. Newsom and Villaraigosa are tied there at 19% among likely voters, according to the PPIC poll, and 20% are undecided. That’s a relatively lowest share of undecideds among the five regions, but I would surmise there are more undecideds south of Stockton and more decided voters in the greater Sacramento area. Renteria could grab a lot of these and perhaps some of Newsom and Villaraigosa voters.

Villaraigosa is close to Clinton, as evidenced by the Super PAC that the Bee’s Christopher Cadelago reported on in January. The Super PAC was formed by Clinton and Obama strategists. Both Newsom and Villaraigosa were national co-chairs of Clinton’s 2008 primary campaign, which she lost to Obama.

Obviously, a Latina candidate with a pedigree like Renteria’s is likely to draw votes–both existing an undecideds–from Villaraigosa. And, just last night at the forum I talk about below, Eastin was praised for being a woman who stood up to run in a field of men, something her fellow men obviously had to applaud. Well, that distinction appears to be gone, unless qualified as “first major candidate willing…”.

For Republicans, the good news is that the pie “major” Democrats is now sliced by five. We’re talking a Denny’s pie slice rather than a Marie Callendar’s slice. That makes it slightly easier for the Republicans to grab a spot in top two and has Paul Mitchell saying “I told you so.” That said, there are still whispers of other GOP candidates as well.

The not-so-good news for Republicans is that they’ve been having little ability to get their message through. Travis Allen desperately needs earned media, and only gets it by attacking his opponents and has been unable to share the gas tax repeal spotlight with Carl DeMaio. John Cox is going to the right of more moderate Doug Ose, something that helps him in June but hurts him in November. We don’t have any reliable polling on Ose, since he joined last month.

Further, when it comes to likely June voters watching the yet-to-be-announced debates, there will now likely be five Democrats on the stage and three Republicans. The five Democrats will include an Asian-American, a Latino, a Latina, the only female state Superintendent of Public Instruction, and the straight white guy who began the issue of legal same-sex marriage in California 14 years ago this week, and paving the way to the law of the nation in 2015.

That’s a hell of a buffet bar for Democrats to choose from, and the three Republicans are all white males, two of whom are wealthy and one of whom isn’t and whose campaign is financially underwater.

Republicans need Renteria’s entrance to spread the Democrats more evenly.  Republicans need a smoke-filled room to hone in on a candidate who can rise against the leading Democrats. Those are two very difficult bets to make, and we are only talking about the primary.

Some ask if Hillary Clinton will stump for Renteria in California and, if so, whether that would help. I don’t think so.

A visible Hillary endorsement or active campaigning for Renteria likely wouldn’t help her former staffer win the governor’s office. Against four experienced candidates among the Democratic field, Renteria has to show her policy chops on California issues.

Sure, Hillary is popular in California, but she only won the state over Donald Trump in 2016 by 1.5% more than Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney. Hillary won what is now a deep blue California on statewide elections because she was on the ballot as a Democrat.

If Hillary were to be a visible part of the campaign, Renteria would appear to be running to be the first woman governor. That didn’t work for Kathleen Brown in 1994 or Jane Harman in 1998–both candidates with strong pedigrees.

The January PPIC poll finds that 74% of likely June voting women have decided on a candidate, with 80% of those already aligned with a Democrat. Renteria would need to peel off significant shares of voters who already say they support a Democrat and capture a large share of undecideds. The path is mathematically challenging to say the least.

Renteria needs to be her own person and focused on California issues, and not look at a national assist–except to call on old friends for campaign cash, and quickly.

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