NEW YORK -- It may take several knocks on the same door before getting to an offer of a cafecito and election talk, but Hillary Clinton’s national political director Amanda Renteria is sure those offers will come often as Latinos see they are a big part of Clinton's campaign focus.
“The first time, it’s, ‘Thank you very much.’ The second time, it’s, ‘Okay, I’ll listen’ and the third time it’s like, ‘Come on in. Let’s have a cafecito. Let’s talk about this,’” Renteria said, talking about the Democratic candidate's on-the-ground efforts to reach potential Hispanic voters.
In an interview with NBC News, Renteria spoke about how the Clinton campaign is building its relationships with America’s largest minority group.
The mission is one that has risen in importance as the Latino electorate has grown, even though it performs under its potential, and as campaigns take note of the oncoming onslaught of young Latinos who are turning 18 by the hundreds of thousands every year.
The history of the last two presidential elections is fresh enough to remind campaigns that President Barack Obama, though he did not win the white vote, got more than two thirds of the Latino vote and secured two elections with a multiracial coalition that will continue to grow so that eight presidential elections from now whites will not longer be the majority.
For her part, Clinton has been speaking to Latino groups, including two recent visits to Las Vegas, a city whose population is about one third Hispanic. She's met with young immigrants without U.S. legal status as well as Latino officeholders, laying out her proposals such as a greater emphasis on early childhood education and her support for a path to citizenship for immigrant families.
“I think speaking Spanish isn’t enough … it’s about the issues and who has been fighting for them,” said Renteria, who is Mexican American. “I think when you see things coming from the Republican party and none of the Republicans stood up to the divisive words, the inflammatory words that a friend of theirs said, the community sees that kind of stuff.”
Although she didn't name him, Renteria was referring to remarks by Donald Trump, the real estate mogul and reality show TV host whose remarks about Mexicans and Mexico when he announced his presidential bid have drawn strong backlash. Just Thursday, the Spanish language network Univision announced it was dropping their deal to broadcast Miss Universe pageants (Trump is part owner, along with NBC Universal), over his referrals to immigrants crossing the border as rapists, drug users and criminals.
Clinton criticized Trump’s comments at the time, saying "hotter and more negative" public discourse can trigger people who are less stable, a reference to the fatal shootings at a black church in South Carolina last week that ended the lives of nine people.
As Renteria sees it, Clinton can draw some affinity between Latino values and her life, even if she can't claim Hispanic identity or connect through a Latino spouse or children, as can Republican candidates Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.
In her NALEO speech in Las Vegas last week, Clinton wove through issues relating to values often named by Latinos as part of their makeup: family, children, education and immigration reform.
She also spoke some about her own mother. In future events, Rentería said, Clinton will talk more about herself and her mother, Dorothy Rodham, who was raised by her severe grandparents after her parents divorced and who was on her own at 14.
“The whole story of it takes a village, that’s so like the Latino community. It takes the grandparents, the mom, the vecinos (neighbors), everyone involved,” said Renteria, invoking an African proverb that is a favorite of Clinton and was the title of a children’s book she wrote.
Part of Renteria’s job as national political director is to oversee interaction with coalition groups, those that advocate for Latinos, African Americans and others, and build support among them. She said she likes to describe her job to her parents as “trying to grow the biggest tent that’s ever been built.”
She said that after South Carolina, she finds it more of a responsibility to focus on a "welcoming" campaign. "I think it really does affect the fabric of our community, the fabric of our country. I think that for me that was a big change in terms of the seriousness of what we are doing … and really building the tent,” she said.
Renteria is part of that tent. From the Central Valley of California, Renteria's father is an immigrant from Zacatecas, Mexico who worked California's farm fields. Her mother was born in the U.S and is of Mexican descent. After studying economics at Stanford and working in the financial industry and as a teacher, Renteria become the first Latina hired as a chief of staff in the U.S. Senate. She made a run for Congress last year but lost to Republican incumbent Rep. David Valadao.
"We as a community need to have a voice in the political environment. I didn't grow up in this, but once you realize what kind of impact you can have and how you can help others in public service I hope more Latinos and different voices come together and are part of it," she said.
Hoping to build on Obama's success in galvanizing multiracial coalitions, the Clinton campaign wants to unite generations and bring together singular groups such as Latinos or African Americans for Hillary, so that they become for example, People of Color for Hillary, Renteria said.
“How do you build (support) deep within the communities, across generations, but also how do you then, bring everyone onto the stage?" she said, adding that taking a position on voting rights is one way.
When asked what are the issues Clinton will stress as she reaches out to Hispanics, Renteria said they would include the Democrats' achievements on health care access, and elaboration on her early campaign declaration that she would go beyond Obama’s immigration executive action, including finding a way for parents of children not legally in the U.S. to remain and work.
“We already have an idea legally of what we can do a little bit further than the president ,” Renteria said, “in large part, because he went as far as he did and we learned what worked and what didn’t and now we get to tweak it a little bit more so it can work for more people.”