Last year, Fresno Democrat John Hernandez ran a low-budget, debt-ridden campaign against Hanford Republican David Valadao for the 21st Congressional District.
Valadao spanked Hernandez in the November election, winning by more than 15 percentage points — even though the district, on paper, appears to be drawn for a Hispanic Democrat.
Undaunted, Hernandez says he’s going to once again challenge Valadao. He plans to officially kick off his campaign Saturday with events in Bakersfield and Sanger.
“We’ve been working all summer,” Hernandez said. “I’m the candidate for this district.”
This time, though, it might not be so simple for Hernandez.
The main reason is Amanda Renteria, who looks like she will have the backing of most, if not all, of the Democratic Party establishment.
Hernandez has already torpedoed the Democratic Party’s plans once. Last year, it backed Fresno City Council Member Blong Xiong in the 21st District race, but in the June open primary, Valadao and Hernandez finished one-two and moved on to the general election, leaving Xiong in the dust.
But Xiong got a late start and his campaign never caught fire.
This time, Renteria is getting an early start and has some intangibles that Xiong didn’t — she is Hispanic and a female.
The 38-year-old graduate of Woodlake High School, Stanford and Harvard Business School was the first Latina chief of staff to a U.S. senator, and has now moved back to the central San Joaquin Valley to run.
This week, she picked up the endorsement of EMILY’s List, a group that supports female Democratic candidates.
Hernandez is undaunted.
“The key is we have the name recognition up and down the district,” he said. “Amanda has none of that. She’s going to have to start from scratch. Nobody knows her at all.”
Some of that echoes what Valadao has said about Renteria.
In the district, 73% of the 712,866 residents are counted as Hispanic or Latino, according to Census Bureau records.
Democrats also enjoy a 47%-32% 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.
Still, no Hispanic has ever been able to turn that kind of advantage into a victory.
Next year, the three hopefuls — Valadao, Hernandez and Renteria, as well as any others who jump in the race — will square off in the open primary. The top two vote getters move on to the November general election, regardless of party.
Assuming Valadao moves on as the likely lone Republican, the question is who will be his opponent — Renteria, the Democratic Party’s favored choice, or Hernandez, once again upsetting his party’s apple cart.