Daniel Lopez was 22 when he decided to run a slate to take control of the Los Angeles County Young Democrats. The board was full of lobbyists and professionals, many of them in their mid-30s, who rarely endorsed candidates in close races out of fear of ruffling feathers.
“A lot of them were doing it as résumé padders,” he says. “They would sit and meet at Starbucks and talk about politics.”
Lopez looked at that and felt a mix of anxiety and eagerness. He thought the group should be younger and more energetic — and more willing to take a stand. So he organized a group of friends, showed up at the board election and took over.
It was a promising start to a career in politics. Now 27, Lopez works for Kamala Harris, the frontrunner to become the next U.S. senator from California. The last time there was an open Senate race in California, Lopez was 3 years old.
As the campaign’s political director, Lopez gets a firsthand look at the politics of a changing state. Like any good operative, he is adept at talking up his boss.
“She is a real powerhouse — she’s almost once-in-a-generation,” he says. “She is a candidate built for California as it is today.”
Lopez grew up as one of the few Latinos in the wealthy enclave of San Marino. His parents came from City Terrace and were active in student demonstrations of the late 1960s. They benefited from affirmative action and went to college, and his father became a cardiologist.
They divorced when Lopez was young, and he was raised by his mother. She encouraged him to attend Loyola High School, a Jesuit school for boys, where he first got involved in politics.
“The Jesuits tend to be more liberal — there was more social justice and liberation theology,” he says. “Two of my priest teachers were arrested in immigration rallies.”
Lopez went to USC and traveled the country working on Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign, juggling his freshman schedule with the demands of the primaries.
“Texas was March 4, and March 7 was all my midterms,” he says. “North Carolina was May 6, and finals were May 10.”
The next year — still in college — he did social media for Antonio Villaraigosa and worked for Paul Krekorian’s City Council campaign. Last summer, he was working on transportation issues in Krekorian’s office when he got the call to work on Harris’ campaign.
As political director, Lopez is in charge of wrangling endorsements up and down the state. He’s had to get to know a wide range of issues — water and high-speed rail in Fresno, the border and veterans’ affairs in San Diego, the environment in San Luis Obispo. He also was in charge of winning the endorsement at the Democratic Convention in February.
“We treated it like the Iowa caucus,” he says. “It was meet-and-greets. We phone-banked everyone. We canvassed delegates. We Facebook messaged them.”
Harris soundly beat her Democratic rival, Rep. Loretta Sanchez, taking 78.12 percent of the vote.
“I fought for that .12 percent,” Lopez says.