Home News Katie Porter, a Rising Star in Congress, Finds Herself Without Another Seat

Katie Porter, a Rising Star in Congress, Finds Herself Without Another Seat

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Katie Porter, a Rising Star in Congress, Finds Herself Without Another Seat

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There were cocktails, and there were sliders. There were pop hits played by a D.J. at The Bungalow, a midcentury-modern lounge in Long Beach, Calif., where Representative Katie Porter had gathered supporters after more than a year of campaigning for a coveted Senate seat.

But there were no televisions.

The crowd — and Ms. Porter — had already guessed what election night had in store.

Had there been screens blaring the news, supporters would have seen a Democratic rival, Representative Adam B. Schiff, advance to California’s general election runoff in November. And shortly thereafter, they would have watched Steve Garvey, a Republican and former baseball player, take the other spot — in no small part because of a stratagem by Mr. Schiff that sidelined Ms. Porter at the earliest opportunity.

It was the end of the road for Ms. Porter, 50, a liberal Democrat who built a following by chastising pharmaceutical executives with a simple whiteboard on Capitol Hill. It is unclear where she will go from here because she had to relinquish her House seat to run for the Senate.

She had effectively used social media and become the candidate of choice for suburban progressives. But it was obvious that Mr. Schiff, beloved by other Democrats for pursuing impeachment charges against former President Donald J. Trump, was the establishment pick.

In the early months of the campaign, Democratic heavy hitters coalesced around Mr. Schiff, 63. And a prized endorsement from Nancy Pelosi, then speaker of the House, brought unmatched fund-raising power.

While Ms. Porter and her supporters knew Mr. Schiff had more resources, they were rankled by how he and his allies deployed them. Tens of millions of dollars were spent not just promoting Mr. Schiff, but also signaling to Republican voters that Mr. Garvey was the conservative who voted twice for Mr. Trump. The race, many thought, was reduced to how California voters felt about the former president.

It was at The Bungalow on Tuesday, short on televisions but full of rage at Democratic leaders, that Ms. Porter and her fans let out their frustrations. She attacked Mr. Schiff for “spending more to boost the Republican than promoting his own campaign.”

In the final weeks of the campaign, a cryptocurrency super PAC spent millions on ads attacking Ms. Porter, who has supported more regulations on the industry and has rebuked various corporate leaders in congressional hearings. The ads called her a hypocrite for accepting corporate donations, which Ms. Porter disputed, and resurfaced accusations that she mistreated staff.

“Too many are more interested in being an elected official than actually doing anything to fix the problems that everyday people face,” she told her supporters in a brief concession speech. “That’s why special interests and billionaires spent close to $20 million attempting to keep me out of the Senate. Special interests and the ultrawealthy — they like politics as it is today.”

“You scared them, Katie!” someone in the audience shouted.

“We scared them,” Ms. Porter responded.

Ms. Porter’s supporters described Mr. Schiff’s ad strategy as cynical and sexist, noting that it had the effect of locking out a qualified woman from the general election, which will leave the state without a female senator for the first time since 1992.

“I think Schiff was set up to be there,” said Larry Limoges, 51, as he waited for Ms. Porter to address the crowd. “The way he does politics is a lot like the way Republicans do politics. Instead of promoting the party, he promoted himself.”

Ms. Porter, 50, launched her Senate campaign in January 2023, even before Senator Dianne Feinstein announced plans to retire after more than three decades in the seat. Ms. Feinstein was the first California woman to serve in the Senate, and she was joined weeks later by Senator Barbara Boxer in a 1992 election hailed as the “Year of the Woman.” Their rise inspired a generation of young women like Ms. Porter, who was just starting college at Yale University at the time.

Mr. Schiff announced that he was running a short time later, as did Representative Barbara Lee, 77, a progressive from Oakland best known for casting the only vote in Congress against the use of military force after the Sept. 11 attacks.

In other states, it might be assumed that a Democratic front-runner would face a leading Republican in the general election. But California has an open primary system, in which the top two vote-getters advance to a runoff regardless of party. Before Mr. Garvey’s entrance in the race, it was long thought that Ms. Porter and Mr. Schiff had the best chance of squaring off this November.

But Mr. Schiff and his backers took Mr. Garvey’s emergence as an opportunity to edge out Ms. Porter and have Mr. Schiff face an easier opponent, in a state that hasn’t elected a Republican to statewide office since 2006. By promoting Mr. Garvey, they could ensure that more Republicans would flock to him than there were Democrats who would choose Ms. Porter in a crowded field. Their ads did what Mr. Garvey could not on a shoestring budget.

Some Democratic strategists said it was a smart gambit that would allow Democratic groups to redirect their money to battleground House races that they might have otherwise spent in a bruising intraparty Senate race. In an attempt to counter Mr. Schiff’s efforts, Ms. Porter’s campaign paid for online ads telling voters that another Republican, Eric Early, was the true conservative running for Senate.

Mr. Schiff has said his ads emphasize his accomplishments as much as they contrast him with Mr. Garvey.

“The most clear distinction in terms of the policies of everyone on the stage today is not among the three Democrats,” he said after a debate in San Francisco last month. “It’s between the three Democrats and the one Republican. So I’m not going to shy away from making that contrast.”

Daniel Orea, 28, who uses the pronouns they and them, said they were first impressed by Ms. Porter at an event years ago hosted by the Lavender Democrats of Orange County. Ms. Porter understood what it was like to try to survive as a working person in one of the most expensive places in the country.

Mx. Orea said they were frustrated with the way Mr. Schiff ran his campaign, eliding tough conversations about how to solve problems for Californians by emphasizing what they said was an overblown threat posed by Mr. Trump.

“We could have talked about issues that people actually care about, instead of Donald Trump all the time,” they said.

Ms. Porter was elected in 2018, as part of the post-Trump “blue wave” — when voters in once-solid Republican districts in California suburbs voted in Democrats, helping the party take over the House.

Ms. Porter’s decision to run for Senate meant that she had to vacate her battleground district, which created an open seat that Democrats will try to keep this fall without an incumbent. It was a risk that left Democrats in her district feeling conflicted, torn between frustration that she left her seat vulnerable and a desire to see her profile continue to rise.

“I’m reluctant to criticize a woman for having aspirations, because we want to inspire, lift up and push up more women into leadership positions,” said Katrina Foley, the first Democratic woman to be elected to the Orange County Board of Supervisors. “I am also cognizant of the timing of things. We are in a more vulnerable place because of the Senate race.”

And Ms. Porter faces a looming question: What is next? She greeted supporters on her way out of the party on Tuesday, but she didn’t answer questions.

Shawn Hubler contributed reporting.

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