Amanda Renteria, a top aide to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, is stepping down from her post at the California attorney general's office to run for governor, according to Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra.
"I wish her a great deal of luck. I obviously hired her because I knew she was pretty capable," Becerra told The Times on Wednesday.
Renteria filed a statement of intent to run for governor with the California secretary of state's office. Attempts to reach her were unsuccessful.
The timing and seemingly hasty rollout of Renteria's bid — without a statement by the candidate, a campaign website or any apparent staff — befuddled political observers in the state.
"I just don't get it," said Rose Kapolczynski, a Democratic strategist and top advisor to former Sen. Barbara Boxer. "You can't enter the governor's race in a state the size of California four months before the election and expect to win, unless she has a secret bank account with $100 million in it."
Renteria joins a race to replace termed-out Gov. Jerry Brown that has been underway for three years. The Central Valley native, who is best known in California and national political circles, will face challenges as a latecomer to the campaign.
Renteria, 43, is not a familiar face to the state's voters, something that could be overcome if she's able to raise significant sums of money. But many donors have already committed to a candidate. The top three Democrats in the race have been campaigning, lining up endorsements and raising money for more than a year and have millions of dollars in the bank. Renteria also missed the deadline to seek the endorsement of the state Democratic Party, or to speak at its convention next week, according to party Chairman Eric Bauman.
It's unclear who will work on Renteria's bid — many of the strategists who helped with her unsuccessful 2014 congressional run are working for other campaigns.
She does have ties to prominent donors and politicians — during that run, President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden spoke at fundraisers for Renteria, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) hosted another fundraiser for her.
Renteria was defeated in that race by incumbent Rep. David Valadao (R-Hanford), who painted her as a carpetbagger. He won 58% to 42%.
Dean Florez, a former state Senate majority leader from Shafter who advised Renteria on her congressional bid, labeled her a "spoiler" on Twitter after seeing the news about her run for governor.
"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 #spoiler #platformIs #badpolitics," he tweeted.
Florez said Renteria failed to learn from her run for Congress.
"I get that she completely loves politics, but her issue then and her issue now is kind of dropping in at the last moment," he said. "In the [Central] Valley she didn't get any traction because voters were trying to figure out who she was. Now, getting into a race with popular politicians in California, all executive elected officials with long track records and histories — I'm just kind of scratching my head."
After the congressional race, Renteria was Clinton's political director during the 2016 presidential campaign. Since then, she has served as Becerra's chief of operations. Becerra did not say when she was stepping down from the post.
If Renteria is able to mount a strong campaign that draws support from her native Central Valley and among Latino voters, that would create a challenge for former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is counting on the two groups in his gubernatorial bid. Recent polling shows the gap between Villaraigosa and front-runner Gavin Newsom has narrowed.
When asked if Renteria could cut into Villaraigosa's base, Becerra sidestepped the question.
"I think it's still very early in the race," said the attorney general, who has not endorsed anyone in the race.
Villaraigosa's campaign declined to comment, though an ally questioned the timing of Renteria's decision.
"This late in the race it seems very difficult to mount a new serious campaign for governor," said Bill Burton, a former Obama administration official who is advising a super PAC backing Villaraigosa's campaign.
Florez argued that Renteria's bid could pose a greater challenge for former state schools chief Delaine Eastin, the lone woman running among the top Democrats in the race. Eastin's campaign coincides with increasingly vocal calls for more women in elected office and with allegations of sexual misconduct brought forward by women in Sacramento. But Eastin has not been able to seize on that momentum, and she lags in the polls and in fundraising.
According to the state filing, Renteria agreed to voluntary spending limits, which means she can spend no more than $8,753,000 in the primary election and $14,588,000 in the general election. Of the Democratic gubernatorial candidates, Eastin has also agreed to such limits, while Villaraigosa, state Treasurer John Chiang and Newsom have not. Republicans John Cox and Assemblyman Travis Allen of Huntington Beach also have accepted voluntary limits on their spending.
5:35 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from Rose Kapolczynski, Bill Burton, Eric Bauman and Dean Florez.