The National Republican Congressional Committee is getting involved in a local political race that hasn't yet begun -- by ambushing a possible congressional candidate who hasn't yet announced.
In recent weeks, the Washington, D.C.-based committee purchased several online domain names, one of which might otherwise have become a campaign website for Amanda Renteria, a Tulare County native and Stanford graduate who is viewed by political insiders to be the presumptive Democratic candidate expected in 2014 to challenge Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford.
Go to AmandaRenteriaForCongress.com and you'll be greeted by an anti-endorsement of Renteria, complete with unflattering photo and bullet points on why she doesn't deserve your vote.
"Sign up to stop Amanda Renteria," the site trumpets, even as it asks for your donation.
Although Renteria has not announced her candidacy in the 21st Congressional District, the committee believes she is the Democrats' likely choice to run against Valadao, who captured the seat last year with 58 percent of the vote, said Alleigh Marre, a spokeswoman for the Republican committee.
In addition to the effort to buy up possible Renteria for Congress URLs, Marre said the committee is launching a paid Google advertising campaign.
"When people start to hear about her candidacy and Google her to learn more, our Google ads will drive people to this website, and cut into the web traffic she would otherwise receive at her site," Marre said in an email.
This effort by a GOP committee thousands of miles from the valley may be an indication of how vulnerable Valadao could be in a Democrat-leaning district with a high percentage of Hispanic residents.
"I guess they're pretty afraid of her (Renteria) to go to these lengths," said Cathy Jorgensen, chairwoman of the Kings County Democratic Central Committee.
Bob Stern, the first general counsel for the California Fair Political Practices Commission who went on to serve as president of the Center for Governmental Studies, didn't seem surprised by the committee's tactics
Is it misleading?
"Of course it is," Stern said. "But you know what they say: All's fair in love, war and politics."
Stern said in the end, it's little more than an annoyance for the candidate.
"This is not going to decide the election," he said. "These are petty games. The issues are far more important than what is happening here."
Republican political consultant Stan Harper said campaigning online and in social media is becoming ever more important for candidates for both parties. He looked askance at the online guerilla tactic, but he didn't condemn it.
"Is this appropriate? It's not something I would do if I were consulting for this campaign," he said.
But the bigger issue is Renteria's connection to the valley.
If she does become the Democratic candidate, Harper said, Renteria may be seen by voters as an outsider, an "interloper," someone who is out of touch with the needs of valley voters.
"She certainly looks good on paper," Harper said. "But this is the valley. How can she relate her past experience with the needs of people in the valley?"
Others wondered if valley voters might look critically at the committee's tactics.
But Tal Eslick, Valadao's chief of staff, said the Valadao camp was not aware of what the committee was doing until a reporter began making inquiries.
Eslick declined to comment on the ethics of the committee's tactics. But he did refer to Renteria's years-long absence from the valley.
"We're always glad to see people come to the valley," he quipped. "We'd be happy to provide her with restaurant recommendations."
Committee spokeswoman Marre also steered clear of the ethics question.
"Amanda Renteria is a partisan activist and Washington insider who has worked for some of D.C.'s most liberal Democrats," she said in a statement. "AmandaRenteriaForCongress.com simply informs voters of Renteria's history and her bloated taxpayer-funded salary."
According to a 2008 Roll Call profile, Renteria's parents immigrated from central Mexico in the 1960s to work as fruit pickers in California. They settled in Woodlake and raised three daughters.
After graduating from Stanford, Renteria earned an MBA from Harvard before joining the staff of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and later rising to chief of staff in the office of Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow. She's also been a financial analyst for Goldman Sachs and worked for the city of San Jose.
Renteria could not be reached for comment Monday. But a spokesperson for the non-candidate offered this:
"Underhanded political tactics bring about more gridlock and dysfunction in Washington. Everyone should be focused on the people they serve and not on political games."