Political operative Amanda Renteria’s dismal run for Congress last year in the Central Valley region of California could make her, it turns out, valuable for keeping Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign from repeating her mistakes in courting Latinos.
For the most part, Latinos stayed home, and that to a great extent explains how a Latina Democrat lost in a district that – on its face, at least – has a large Latino population and more registered Democrats than Republicans.
The failure of Democrats in last year’s midterm elections to excite Latinos enough to drive them to the polls repeated itself in other places across the country, translating into gains for Republican candidates.
Now, Renteria is taking the cautionary tale of her loss and the losses suffered by Democrats in other places and taking heed in her role as political director for Clinton’s campaign, the Los Angeles Times reported.
"It is really time for Latinos to understand who is with them and who is not," Renteria said in a recent interview with the Times. "One of the real opportunities in a presidential election is to truly have a message that can break through, even in the little towns where I grew up."
Clinton’s campaign has reached out to Latinos more than what is typical so early in the presidential race, the Times noted. Surveys have shown that Latinos are hard-pressed to name her Democratic challengers.
Clinton has delivered high-profile speeches on immigration and engaged in meetings with Latinos since she launched her campaign.
The former Secretary of State has many high-profile Latinos, such as former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, as campaign surrogates. And among her most recent hires is Lorella Praeli, Clinton’s Latino outreach director, who was United We Dream’s director of policy and advocacy and is a former undocumented immigrant.
Renteria is striving to have the campaign connect with Latinos not just in a strictly political way, but a personal one, too, the Times reported.
There was, for instance, the campaign reached out to millennials in a bar in Philadelphia to chat about careers and paying student loans, among other things.
"It is not just about 'come vote for me,' but … 'how can I help'?" the Times quoted Renteria as saying. "We have the resources in this election to talk about it."
The Clinton campaign is identifying Latinos in communities where they have a large presence and seeking their input about what events to hold and what themes to focus on.
Now Renteria has the kind of funds and other resources she lacked when she ran for Congress in her home state last year.
"With the hand she was dealt, she did the best she could," said Mark Salavaggio, a Central Valley political analyst, to the Times. "It did shock people that she lost by so much."
The Republican who defeated her, incumbent Rep. David Valado, of Portuguese descent, cast Renteria, who had worked as a Capitol Hill staffer, as a Washington carpetbagger, something that irked the daughter of Mexican migrant workers.
Republicans depict Renteria’s loss in California and the subpar performance of Democrats among Latino voters as evidence that the community is not inherently Democratic-leaning.
"The idea that if you just bring out more Latinos to the polls you will win is a big mistake, and one I hope Democrats continue to make," said Mike Madrid, a Republican consultant in California, to the Times.
"Amanda Renteria was running in an area where Latinos tend to be very conservative. They are similar to what the Latino voters will look like in Colorado, New Mexico, rural Virginia and a lot of battleground states."