Is Amanda Renteria a Bell Ringer?

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

When I was young reporter in Baltimore, they called them “bell ringers”: candidates who were unknown and not real contenders – but whose names were placed on the ballot to create confusion and shave a few points off the tally of a real contender.

In Baltimore, such candidates often had prominent names. (There were more than a few “George Washingtons”). Or sometimes they had names similar to that of another candidate.

It’s quite possible that Amanda Renteria is a bell ringer in the race for governor.

Renteria is a Democratic political operative who entered the race for governor last week – and then went silent. No web site, no press release, no rollout. And if she were a serious candidate, she would be doing all those things, given just how there are just a couple months before people start voting.

So why run? Some have speculated that Renteria, who had run previously and unsuccessfully for Congress, may want to raise her name recognition.

Or perhaps she is a bell ringer.

That’s essentially what some Democrats were suggesting. And if she’s a bell ringer, she seemed targeted to take a few points away from Antonio Villaraigosa.

There were three reasons for that. First, Villaraigosa is running a strong second in polls—making him the natural candidate to target in a top two race. Second, Renteria is Latina, so putting her on the ballot, the thinking goes, could take a few Latino votes away from Villaraigosa. Third, she’s from the Central Valley, where Villaraigosa has been campaigning hard.

A strategist for Villaraigosa fingered the campaign of Gavin Newsom as being behind the Renteria entry. It’s not a bad strategy. While no smoking gun was presented, Newsom spokesman Dan Newman gave Politico a non-denial denial, calling the accusation of Newsom being behind Renteria of the “tinfoil-covered grassy knoll” variety, and then mau-mauing, perhaps a bit too strongly, about how “it’s severely sexist for team Antonio to paint an accomplished woman as the naive rube manipulated by a bunch of dudes.”

But Newsom isn’t the only suspect. Supporters of state Treasurer John Chiang, who sits in third in much polling, would have incentive to advance Renteria. So would certain labor interests, which are supportive of Newsom and Chiang but have been critical of Villaraigosa, who took on teachers’ unions as L.A. mayor and is positioning himself as a moderate candidate.

And if Renteria is a bell ringer, she is already an effective one. You’re reading this piece for example, and Politico and other media are writing about it. And every bit of attention, and every little vote, counts when you’re a bell ringer.

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