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Ex-Clinton aide makes mystery bid for California governor

LOS ANGELES — Amanda Renteria, the former top Hillary Clinton campaign aide who baffled Democrats when she filed paperwork recently to run for California governor, still isn’t talking.

In the days since filing, Renteria made no campaign announcement and is not returning reporters’ calls. She’s raised no money and has no apparent political apparatus — a bizarre campaign opening more characteristic of a fringe candidate than a political professional.

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Up and down California, Democrats spent the week scratching their heads — or suggesting ulterior motives.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” said Garry South, a longtime Democratic strategist who advised former Gov. Gray Davis. “You don’t run for governor of California in four months. The state is too big, the race for governor is far too expensive, and you particularly don’t do it when you are a complete unknown, you have no money, you have no campaign kitty, and you don’t even have a website or a Facebook page.”

In Renteria’s case, South added, “You have no staff, you have no consultants, you have no endorsements and you don’t even put out a press release.”

Renteria, a former aide to Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Debbie Stabenow, gained prominence in political circles as national political director of Clinton’s 2016 campaign. But Renteria is not widely known in California, and her last bid for elected office, in a House contest in 2014, ended in bruising defeat. Rep. David Valadao that year trounced Renteria by more than 15 percentage points in her effort to dislodge the Republican from his Central Valley seat.

Renteria’s filing for the gubernatorial race comes less than four months before the June primary, and she will start far behind a large field of more prominent Democrats who have been courting activists, securing endorsements and raising millions of dollars for more than a year.

If it wasn’t for her political pedigree, it’s likely no one would have even paid attention to her bid.

Democrats familiar with Renteria said she could be seeking to build name recognition for a future, more credible, run for statewide office, while supporters of former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, one of two leading Democratic candidates for governor, feared her candidacy could undercut his support among Latinos and voters in the Central Valley.

Dean Florez, a former Democratic state senator, called Renteria a “spoiler,” writing on Twitter, “Completely saddened by this development. If you are running for Governor, announce 6 months ago, attend the debates, hold a press conference with your supporters & speak directly to the press.”

Mike Madrid, a Republican consultant working with Villaraigosa, said on KQED’s “Political Breakdown” podcast Thursday that “something just doesn’t smell right with what happened. … We know something else is afoot. … You don’t run for office and file 30 days out [before the filing deadline] with no endorsement, no infrastructure and no campaign website.”

Asked if Renteria is a stalking horse for Gavin Newsom, the Democratic lieutenant governor who’s leading in the polls, Madrid said, “I think the dots are there … I think it was sloppy all the way around.”

Newsom spokesman Dan Newman dismissed the accusation of collusion as the political equivalent of a “tinfoil-covered grassy knoll.” In an email, he added, “Not to mention it’s severely sexist for team Antonio [Villaraigosa] to paint an accomplished woman as the naive rube manipulated by a bunch of dudes.”

Renteria said in a message to POLITICO on Twitter, “I’ll be in touch next week.”

Delaine Eastin is pictured. | AP Photo

News of Renteria’s candidacy first emerged as if by accident, when the California Target Book’s Rob Pyers noticed her filing with the secretary of state’s office, tweeting, “Well this is interesting…Hillary Clinton’s 2016 National Political Director has apparently filed to run for California Governor.”

A top aide to state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Renteria immediately became unreachable. She said on Twitter, “For questions coming in right now: I am still serving as the Chief of Operations at the California Department of Justice.” But just hours later, Becerra’s office confirmed she was stepping down from her post.

In a note to colleagues later posted on Medium, Renteria thanked employees of Becerra’s office for “caring so deeply about the people of California and the sanctity of our justice system.” She did not mention her campaign.

“I know nothing,” said Eric Bauman, chairman of the California Democratic Party. “Amanda certainly has my phone number, and she didn’t call me and didn’t tell me.”

Renteria’s candidacy comes too late for her to compete for the state party’s endorsement, and she will not be offered a speaking spot at the party’s upcoming convention in San Diego, Bauman said.

“The program is done and there’s not a free minute in it,” he said.

Bauman added, “I have no intel on what she’s thinking, what her plan is, who’s running her race. I‘ve known her for a long time, and we talked at least once a week during the many, many months of the Clinton campaign … I don’t know what her mission is here.”

Kevin Cramer is pictured. | AP Photo

Renteria drew support from prominent Democrats in her 2014 House run, including EMILY’s List and the Latino Victory Project. Then-Vice President Joe Biden campaigned alongside her. Following Clinton’s defeat, she has spoken publicly about the importance of electing women to public office.

Despite the large field of candidates running to succeed Gov. Jerry Brown, only one candidate other than Renteria, Delaine Eastin, is a woman. Eastin, a former state schools chief, has struggled to raise money and is languishing in public opinion polls.

Eastin shrugged off Renteria’s entry into the race, saying, “The more the merrier.” But she added, “The best public policy comes from people who have worked in public policy. … It puts you at a disadvantage if you have never run for public office in California.”

On Friday, Renteria’s voicemail was full. Bob Mulholland, a longtime Democratic strategist in California, said Renteria’s candidacy is “strange, unless she has won the Publishers Clearing House [sweepstakes] this month.”

However, he said, “It may be that she sees … 2018 will be the year of the woman, and it may be that she’s looking at getting more coverage and running for something else down the road. And I admire that.”

In a text message exchange with Renteria a few weeks ago, Mulholland said, Renteria asked him if he was supporting anyone for governor. It didn’t occur to him that she was running. But he said, “She must have been thinking about it for a while and decided to do it.”

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