Congressional hopeful wants to give Valley ‘a strong voice’

Published: Sunday, Sep. 29, 2013 - 12:00 am

A San Joaquin Valley native who became the first Latina chief of staff to a U.S. senator has now set her eyes on the House of Representatives, as she embarks on a high-profile challenge to freshman Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford.

Amanda Renteria, a 38-year-old graduate of Woodlake High School, Stanford and Harvard Business School, says she is running as a way “to give people a voice and a vote that they haven’t had before.”

“I’m running because I grew up here, and I believe the Valley needs a strong voice in Washington,” Renteria said in an interview Friday. “We have to have folks who know how to work across the aisle, and who know how to be effective.”

Renteria now lives with her husband and two young children in Sanger, having moved back to the Valley in August following her extended Capitol Hill stint. For the moment, she is working as a substitute teacher at Sanger High School.

Renteria’s candidacy could well make California’s 21st Congressional District race one of the nation’s most closely watched, and the target of considerable outside spending. In addition to her high-flying résumé, Renteria is running in a district where 73 percent of its 712,866 residents are counted as Hispanic or Latino, according to Census Bureau records.

Democrats also enjoy a 47-32 percent voter registration advantage over Republicans in the district, which includes all of Kings and parts of Kern, Tulare and Fresno counties on the Valley’s west side

“A district like mine is always going to be competitive,” Valadao acknowledged.

But Valadao, the 36-year-old son of Portuguese immigrants, enjoys advantages of his own. He’s a native of the district and has held state or federal elected office in the southern San Joaquin Valley since 2011, boosting his name recognition. As an incumbent, and member of the House Appropriations Committee, he enjoys other built-in advantages that include, notably, the power to raise a great deal of money.

“Every challenger underestimates the power of incumbency and overestimates their power to get rid of the incumbent,” said David Schecter, a Fresno State University political science professor.

Last year, Valadao steamrolled a Democratic candidate, John Hernandez. Democrats point out that Hernandez was chronically underfunded and was almost totally off the radar screen of influential local party officials and the national party as a whole.

Renteria, by contrast, has already captured national Democrats’ fancy. Veteran Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, called her “a quality candidate,” while Republican strategist Allan Hoffenblum, publisher of the California Target Book, which tracks campaigns, predicted “it’s going to be a tough one for (Valadao) and there’s going to be a lot of money spent.”

Valadao currently has $448,814 in his campaign treasury, according to the latest Federal Election Commission filing. He spent more than $1.1 million to win election in 2012, and Renteria said she expects the 2014 campaign spending to reach similar levels from both sides.

Republicans show every sign of taking her candidacy seriously.

The National Republican Congressional Committee has already established an anti-Renteria website, misleadingly called It identifies Renteria as a “Washington insider” and blasts her work for Feinstein, whom the website identifies as a “longtime advocate of high-speed rail.” Valadao, a staunch opponent of California’s high-speed rail plan, likewise casts Renteria as a newcomer to the district.

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