WASHINGTON — Democratic congressional candidates from California’s San Joaquin Valley fueled up on Capitol Hill this week.
With a round of meetings, briefings and countless quick handshakes, Michael Eggman and Amanda Renteria aided their respective efforts to unseat two House Republicans. A political tradition for challengers from both parties, the Capitol Hill visits can establish networks, build credibility and boost crucial fund raising.
“I can’t help the people of California’s 10th Congressional District unless I get support,” Eggman said in an interview at a Pennsylvania Avenue coffee shop.
A beekeeper and Kingsburg resident who has not previously held public office, Eggman is running in the Democratic primary in the hopes of taking on Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., in a district that spans Stanislaus County and part of San Joaquin County.
In the nearby 21st Congressional District, covering all or parts of Kings, Kern, Tulare and Fresno counties, Renteria hopes to challenge freshman Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif.
Renteria, a Stanford and Harvard Business School graduate who formerly served as chief of staff to Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, is likewise making her first run for elected office.
“It’s hard work,” Renteria said Thursday. “You come here, and you get inspiration.”
Other Democrats have declared themselves candidates in the Valley districts, as well. John Hernandez, whom Valadao beat in 2012, wants another shot, and Michael Barkley is making another go of it in the 10th Congressional District.
It’s Eggman and Renteria, though, who have earned slots in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s hierarchy of House candidates to watch. Eggman is on the group’s “Emerging Races” list, while Renteria made its higher-echelon “Red to Blue” list.
For each list, candidates must meet certain fund raising and organizational benchmarks. They can receive additional support from the committee, which exists to get more Democrats into the House of Representatives.
Republicans, too, reward House challengers who can demonstrate feasibility. Fresno attorney and Navy veteran Steve Crass, for instance, raised enough money in his bid to take on Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., to be designated as “On the Radar” by the National Republican Congressional Committee.
The listings can help get a foot in the door. This week, Eggman was able to meet with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus as well as officials with the AFL-CIO and the Democratic-affiliated Truman National Security Project, which works to train national security experts.
“It’s an exciting process,” Eggman said.
Renteria this week has met with the likes of EMILY’s List, an advocacy group that supports Democratic female candidates who favor abortion rights.
Along with other “Red to Blue” candidates, Renteria squeezed into a crowded townhouse several blocks from the Capitol on Thursday morning for some face time with campaign operators and political reporters. One after another, journalists from the Washington Post, National Journal, Politico, The Hill and the Associated Press, among others, asked questions.
“This is a true partnership,” Rep. Steve Israel of New York, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, exclaimed in a brief cheer-leading speech to his candidates, adding that “you’re going win this on resources.”
By resources, Israel mostly meant money.
Denham had $1.5 million on hand and Eggman had $426,000 as of March 31, according to the most recent Federal Election Commission filings.
In the other Valley district, Valadao had $852,000 on hand, while Renteria had $423,000 available as of March 31.
On Wednesday night, at a Capitol Hill-area establishment called Lounge 21, the Sunlight Foundation reported, the Friends of Renteria campaign organization held a fundraiser where tickets went for between $250 and $1,000. The money raised, in turn, supports both the advertising game and the ground game.
“You’ve got to be knocking on doors,” Renteria said, while walking toward another meeting. “You’ve got to be talking to people.”
All the candidates run in the June 3 primary election. The top two finishers will move on to the November general election.