Young congressional candidate takes a cue from the Obama campaign

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A 26-year-old congressional candidate from East Los Angeles is borrowing some pages from President Obama's campaign in his bid to upset two veteran politicians in the race. KPCC's Frank Stoltze reports that the campaign of Democrat Emanuel Pleitez has attracted enthusiastic young supporters from around the country.

Frank Stoltze: In a small room at his headquarters above a donut shop in El Sereno, Emanuel Pleitez sits amid stacks of campaign literature. Pleitez shares many of the views of the two frontrunners – State Senator Gil Cedillo and Board of Equalization member Judy Chu. But he's half their age.

Emanuel Pleitez: This district wants new leadership, just like the country decided in November that they wanted new leadership as well.

Stoltze: Pleitez is a Stanford University graduate who's worked as a personal assistant for L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and on President Obama's Treasury Department transition team. Last year, he spent six months as a financial analyst with Goldman Sachs. But he says he has humble roots that would serve him well representing a congressional district that stretches from his old El Sereno neighborhood east through the San Gabriel Valley.

Pleitez: I grew up poor, without any resources, single-parent, immigrant household, having to look for a home without any resources. I know what that's like.

Stoltze: Pleitez' campaign headquarters is filled with friends from around East LA and strangers from all over.

Sipra Bihani: My name is Sipra, I'm from Jacksonville, Florida and I'm 23 years old.
Perry Green: Perry Green, 23, Chicago, Illinois.

Stoltze: Pleitez story has captured the energy and imagination of millennials hot off the campaign of President Obama. Perry Green and Sipra Bihani learned of his candidacy on political Web sites. They took time off from their jobs in teaching and insurance to volunteer.

Green: I'm ready for a leader who's got the experience, the education, the background, the heart – but who's also 26 years old.

Bihani: I hope he's an inspiration for other people whether they're my age or older.

Stoltze: During the day, the two walk precincts for Pleitez. At night, they cram into a two-bedroom apartment provided by the campaign.

Bihani: (laughs) There's maybe 12 of us in our house. There's two small bedrooms, a small living room, pull-out couches, air mattresses, three people to a bed kind of situation. If we don't mop, then the floor is disgusting.

Stoltze: Pleitez says nearly 60 people are volunteering for him full-time. Nick Hambley from Monterey is his volunteer new media director.

Nick Hambley: We really do model ourselves off the Obama campaign, except we are taking a national model and making it local for this district. Ya know, we have a lot of presence on Facebook, which today is an essential for any modern campaign in my opinion. We have a lot of presence on Twitter. Every day, Emanuel is twittering. A lot of our campaign staff are twittering.
Frank Stoltze: Is it tweeting or is it twitting?
Hambley:(laughs) I never know. I think the official nomenclature is tweeting.
Stoltze: Tweeting gives you 124 or 126 characters. What can you get out in those short messages?
Hambley: Well, two days ago, Emanuel was visiting an elementary school because he got a letter from one of the students and that was something that we tweeted. I think one of our canvassers got attack by bees the other day and so that was something he tweeted about. (laughs)

Stoltze: Hambley says it's all about standing out in an online environment cluttered with messages. Pleitez has raised more than $200,000 online – mostly in five- and ten-dollar donations.

Pleitez: I want to make sure that people around the country realize the importance of what we did here realize that they can do the same thing in their own way, in their own district, in their own home town, that they don't need to wait to be handed the mantle of leadership.

Stoltze: Pleitez' campaign has attracted the attention of one of the frontrunners, Gil Cedillo, who considers him enough of a threat to his own Latino voting base that he sent out a negative mailer about the young upstart. Political observers say Pleitez remains a long shot, but they predict that he may become somebody to watch.