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News / Politics

Katie Porter is optimistic about the future of her congressional seat — and her career

By Benjamin Oreskes, Los Angeles Times
Published: April 13, 2024, 6:02am

LOS ANGELES — Since Democratic Rep. Katie Porter launched her losing bid for Senate, an air of discontent has simmered quietly — and not so quietly — among fellow Democrats.

They had worked hard to flip her Orange County congressional seat from red to blue in 2018. Porter’s decision to run for Senate against fellow Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff and Barbara Lee meant the swing-district House seat would be vacant, setting up an expensive race for Democrats — and a potential flip for Republicans — as each side fights for control of Congress.

California has become a key battleground in the fight for the House, and Porter’s seat is one of a handful that will help determine which party wins control. But she dismissed fears that her absence from the ballot could make the seat easier for the GOP to pick up, saying in an interview that Democrats have a strong candidate for the 47th Congressional District in state Sen. Dave Min, who will face off against Republican former Assemblyman Scott Baugh in November.

“We have to be careful not to let that anxiety doom us to fail,” Porter told The Times. “I absolutely don’t see why Dave won’t win.”

Porter has become friendly with Min since running against him in 2018 in a race that was unusually nasty. She noted that they have since become friends and this year, he prevailed decisively in a Democratic primary against a well-funded opponent even while bearing the brunt of millions of dollars in attack ads.

Porter also said she remains open to the possibility of running for elected office again but is excited in the near term to return to teaching at UC Irvine’s law school, where she has been on leave since her election to Congress.

“To me, educating students who are going to go on to become lawyers and prosecutors and public defenders and judges and civil rights attorneys is also shaping public life,” she said.

Jacob Rubashkin, deputy editor for Inside Elections, said it’s hard to envision Democrats winning the majority in the House if Min loses this fall. His Republican opponent Baugh lost by three percentage points to Porter in 2022 — in a race that saw her raise and spend close to $30 million. Min’s fundraising is unlikely to come close to hers, but he’s getting fundraising and organizing support from Congressional Democrats ‘ national campaign arm.

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Rubashkin also pointed out that outside groups supporting Min’s Democratic opponent in the primary ran nearly $5 million in ads attacking Min for a 2023 DUI in Sacramento, and he still won decisively last month.

“I think there’s going to be a lot more focus [from Republicans] on his legislative record in Sacramento than his criminal record in Sacramento this fall,” Rubashkin said.

Looking back on her primary run against Schiff, Lee and Republican Steve Garvey, Porter said she was handicapped by the outside money flowing into the primary in its final weeks attacking her along with a shifting “zeitgest” that left many Democrats unenthusiastic about voting. The low turnout from young people in particular made it a hard race for her to win, she said.

“It’s hard when you get outspent three to one, and that is ultimately how in the last month the race unfolded,” she said.

“Donald Trump is one of the biggest threats to our democracy. I think you could also say that voter disillusionment, voter disengagement — particularly among younger voters, voters of color — that is also a big threat to our democracy and we should be thinking about that going forward as well.”

Porter had previously said she regretted calling the California Senate primary rigged. Her point with that comment was that the money flowing from outside sources, some of which was hidden, made it hard for her to compete.

For now, Porter said she’s focused on her work on the House Oversight Committee, as well as on passing several pieces of legislation related to ethics and good government. One would require members of Congress to disclose their meetings to their constituents. She also highlighted a colleague’s bill to require more and earlier disclosure of campaign spending by super PACs.

When asked about running for governor or attorney general in 2026, Porter was noncommittal, saying that right now she wants to spend more time with her family, but that she would not “foreclose anything in the future.”

Since the primary ended, she’s already followed through on a promise to her daughter Betsy: that if Porter lost the race for Senate, the family could get a cat.

Naming the new pet, though, has been a big “controversy,” she said. “We’re currently deciding between Mocha, Karma and Dino.”