Capitol Alert

California tech entrepreneur joins race to unseat Republican Rep. Tom McClintock

The race to take on Republican Rep. Tom McClintock got a bit more crowded on Tuesday.

Entrepreneur Brynne Kennedy, who recently relocated from San Francisco to Roseville, formally filed paperwork to challenge the conservative six-term congressman from Elk Grove.

She’s the second Democrat in the 2020 race for California’s 4th Congressional District. Sean Frame, a Placerville Union School Board member and local businessman, declared his candidacy in November 2018.

Kennedy, who helped raise more than $100 million in venture capital for the software company she founded, isn’t ruling out putting her own money into the race.

In an interview with The Sacramento Bee, Kennedy said she is focusing on building support from local voters and donors, and “then we’ll see how that goes going forward.”

Kennedy recently completed a listening tour of the district, which includes the Sacramento suburbs of Roseville and Placerville, something she said has shaped the focus of her campaign.

“I’ve sat down with a lot of people, and figured out that the overarching need is ... that we need jobs and we need economic opportunity in our district,” said Kennedy.

The 35-year-old Yale graduate launched her company, Topia, in 2010, to help people relocating to new communities. It has since evolved into a software platform to help companies manage the relocation of new or existing employees, both nationally and internationally.

“I am an entrepreneur, I am a proven businessperson,” she told the Bee. “I think that’s what we need more than anything in Washington today, people with an entrepreneurial spirit.”

She’ll first have to overcome skepticism from some local Democratic activists, who have already signaled that they’d prefer a candidate with deep ties to the district.

Suzanne Eckes-Wahl, a California Democratic party delegate and organizer with the local Indivisible group, told the Bee last month that she was “uncomfortable with someone from outside the district coming in.”

“I think that you need a local who knows how to work across party lines and who has been doing that,” Eckes-Wahl said.

Frame, the other Democrat in the race, is making his local connections a focus of his campaign. He told the Bee in April that he plans to emphasize the shared problems facing district residents, like access to the internet and the rising risk of wildfire, as a way to bridge the partisan divide.

Frame has struggled to raise money early on, however, reporting just $30,000 in receipts in the first three months of 2019. Frame acknowledged in an interview last month that “money gets your message out.” But he argued that it’s more important to do the grassroots outreach that will turn voters out to the polls next year.

McClintock, himself, has never lived in the district, something Kennedy highlighted when asked about her recent move to the area. “Tom McClintock has not chosen to live in the district,” she said. “I chose to make my life in Roseville and everything I have ever done has been all in.”

She also suggested her upbringing in Pittsfield, in a largely rural corner of Western Massachusetts, will help her connect with the district’s voters. “That’s where my values come from,” Kennedy said.

The politics of the 4th district, a mix of suburban communities and rural Sierra Nevada towns along the state’s eastern border, are challenging for any Democrat. According to the latest voter registration statistics from February, Republicans make up 41 percent of the district versus just 28 percent for Democrats, with ‘no party preference’ and minor party voters totaling 31 percent.

McClintock’s 2018 opponent, Jessica Morse, made inroads with those pivotal independent voters, according to a post-election survey commissioned by the activist group Sierra Forward. But despite outraising McClintock and winning the support of national Democrats, she still lost by 8 percentage points.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has not included McClintock’s seat on its current list of 2020 targets, although that could change depending on how the campaigns perform in the coming months. The committee had Morse on its list of supported candidates after she advanced to the 2018 general election.

In California’s so-called “jungle primary,” the top two vote-getters in the March 3 primary will advance to next year’s general election. McClintock is all but assured to be one of them.

McClintock’s political consultant, Chris Baker, is skeptical Democrats will be able to make the race any closer in 2020 than they did last year.

“I don’t know that any Democrat can do better than Morse did,” Baker told the Bee last month. “But if they want to try again, I guess we can’t stop them.”

Emily Cadei works out of the McClatchy Washington bureau, where she covers national politics and policy for McClatchy’s California readers. A native of Sacramento, she has spent more than a decade in D.C. reporting on U.S. elections, Congress and foreign affairs for publications including Newsweek, Congressional Quarterly and Roll Call.