California’s Central Valley was home last cycle to a botched open-seat opportunity for Democrats, and the party could be facing a replay in 2014.
After squeaking out of the 2012 top-two primary over the party's preferred candidate, Democrat John Hernandez was defeated by Republican David Valadao by a 16-point margin for the new 21st District, even as President Barack Obama won there with 55 percent.
This cycle, Democrats are again targeting the seat and have recruited former Capitol Hill aide Amanda Renteria to run.
But back as a potential spoiler is Hernandez, a former president of the Central California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. The issues many say contributed to his 2012 loss — a disorganized campaign and difficulty raising money — seem to be plaguing him once again.
Although Hernandez appeared at a candidate forum last week and has sent out multiple fundraising emails for his 2014 bid, he failed to file required quarterly fundraising reports to the Federal Election Commission in each quarter of 2013. As of the end of 2012, the last fundraising period for which Hernandez filed a report with the FEC, his campaign had $14,000 in cash on hand and was $41,000 in debt.
In two full years as a candidate — since filing a statement of organization in February 2012 — he has received 13 letters from the FEC regarding compliance issues. That's at least one for each required filing since becoming a federal candidate and includes letters citing a failure to file his past five required reports.
The latest FEC letter , dated Feb. 19 and addressed to his wife, who is listed as the campaign treasurer, again warned that a failure to comply "may result in civil money penalties, an audit or legal enforcement action."
A Monday fundraising email asked for donations of “$25 - $2,500 or whatever you can afford” to attend an event with Hernandez at a Fresno restaurant. The email also links to a donation page at ActBlue, a third-party group that allows people to donate to candidates online. However, an ActBlue representative said Hernandez does not have an active account for the 2014 election cycle.
Hernandez's fundraising emails list addresses for three campaign offices. The Hanford address appears to be a private residence, while the other two appear to be located in more traditional California strip-mall office spaces.
Cathee Romley, president of the Democratic Women of Kern, a local Democratic club in the district, said Hernandez bounced a check for $42 to her organization for a fundraising luncheon he attended in August. Her group has still not received the money.
"He wrote a check and we notified him, we sent him a letter letting him know that it was a check that was bounced for insufficient funds written on a closed checking account," said Romley, whose organization is neutral in the primary between Hernandez and Renteria. "We just shake our head and say, 'This guy cannot be serious. You cannot do this.'"
Hernandez did not return multiple requests for comment.
If he qualifies for the ballot, Hernandez will face Valadao and Renteria in a June 3 top-two primary, in which the two highest vote recipients advance to the general regardless of party.
Renteria raised $338,000 in the fourth quarter, her first as a candidate, and had $257,000 in cash on hand as of Dec. 31. Her cash on hand total is more than Hernandez raised in his entire 2012 bid for the seat, and Renteria has the added support of EMILY's List, a group that seeks to boost Democratic women who support abortion rights into office.
Still, the Hernandez campaign recently touted a Republican poll reported by the Bakersfield Californian that showed Hernandez in second place in the all-party primary, behind Valadao.
The incumbent Republican ended 2013 with $677,000 in the bank and is unlikely to have trouble advancing to the general.
California's 21st District is rated a Tilt Republican contest by Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.