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Can Democrats keep Katie Porter’s congressional district blue?

The fight between Democrats Dave Min and Joanna Weiss has become even more tense since Min, the Democratic front-runner, was arrested for drunk driving in May after running a red light. (Min called the incident “the worst mistake of my life.”) While Democrats in California and Washington debate whether Min’s choice is too politically risky, the Republican who narrowly lost to Porter last year salivates at the thought of overturning his seat.

“We suspect they will have gone through a pretty bloody primary process,” Republican candidate Scott Baugh said of who emerges as the Democratic candidate in the general election.

The left began agonizing over the district as soon as Porter decided in January to run for Senate instead of seeking re-election. Their path to retaking the House runs through California and requires weeding out vulnerable Republicans who lost a key boss with the ouster of then-Speaker. Kevin McCarthy.

But in this case, the party is playing defense in a district where Democrats have a razor-thin registration advantage. Although President Joe Biden won the seat by 11 points over former President Donald Trump in 2020, Republicans doubt he can replicate that margin this time around.

This is a particularly difficult moment for Orange County Democrats, who have vacillated between successes and setbacks in recent years – sweeping the county’s six-district delegation in 2018, only to backslide and give two seats back to Republicans . Porter’s narrow victory last year further underlined how fragile the party’s gains have been, even with a political celebrity on the ballot.

“No one can be like Katie Porter,” Min said in a recent interview. “I’m not going to try to be like Katie Porter. She is particularly charismatic, particularly funny and particularly famous.

Although neither Min nor Weiss present themselves as clones of Porter, they all share a similar political origin: the 2018 midterm elections. Min and Porter, neither of whom were elected officials, ran for Congress that year. After Porter defeated Min in an acrimonious primary, Min used that campaign as a springboard toward his successful bid for state Senate in 2020.

Also during this election cycle, Weiss helped create Women for American Values ​​and Ethics (WAVE), a fundraising and volunteering machine that embodied the political awakening of suburban women after the election by Trump in 2016. The group has been particularly successful in organizing in coastal areas of the county. , home to mostly well-off Republicans and independents who were a critical voting bloc for Democrats’ successes that year.

representative Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), who grew up in Orange County and now represents part of the county’s interior, said Weiss’ experience mobilizing women voters will be key in 2024, as Democrats hope to exploit lingering anger over the party’s overthrow. Roe v. Wade. As recent elections in Ohio and Virginia have shown, abortion rights remain an extremely important issue.

“When you talk about things like women’s right to choose, it’s very personal,” Sánchez said. “As a woman in this race, she will be able to convey that message.”

But Min’s camp says most voters who consider abortion a priority issue have already decided which party they will support — and that Asian Americans, who make up 20 percent of the eligible voting population, are the decisive voters. Both parties are competing for the Asian American and Pacific Islander vote, and Republicans have made a special effort to build a field of candidates from those communities. Two Korean American Women – Representatives. Michelle Steel And Young Kim – picked up two contested seats for the GOP in 2020; there are currently no Asian American Democrats from Orange County in Congress.

Min, who is Korean American but whose last name is also common among Chinese and Vietnamese, says he can appeal to otherwise conservative Asian Americans.

Those voters “represent the margin of victory in many cases,” said Tammy Kim, a Democratic vice mayor of Irvine who previously led a progressive Asian-American Pacific Islander advocacy group.

“I really like Joanna Weiss – I really do. … I hate the fact that her and Dave are fighting,” Kim said. “That being said, I think if there is an AAPI seat, this is it. And I want to see Dave Min figure it out.

Min said Porter, who supported her campaign, told her she thought the seat should be represented by an Asian American. Porter’s campaign has not commented on Min’s remarks.

The toughest fights between Democrats so far have little to do with differences in policy or political strategy. Instead, it’s all about Min’s DUI.

The incident gave new momentum to Weiss, who was already racing. In the weeks following the arrest, Harley Rouda, the district’s former Democratic representative, aligned himself with Weiss and called on Min to step down. Other Democrats announced their support for Weiss soon after, including Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley and Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris, who won a hard-fought election in the region. So did EMILY’S List, the national fundraising giant that supports pro-abortion rights candidates.

“We need to make sure we send the strongest candidate for general,” Weiss said. “It is concerning that anyone would drive under the influence and endanger other drivers – especially a state senator, driving a state-owned vehicle, who demonstrated poor judgment of character. I think our community agrees with that.

While some national Democrats initially expressed concerns about Min’s prospects, party leaders in Washington have yet to support either campaign. The House Democrats’ campaign arm remained focused on Baugh, launching attacks on his views on abortion or on his past campaign legal troubles that resulted in a $47,000 fine.

Both campaigns publicly and privately advocated to party leaders and activists about whether or not DUI was disqualifying. Weiss’s supporters say this is particularly damaging because there is video footage of Min’s arrest.

Min’s camp issued a poll note claiming that such attacks on Min were not appreciated by voters. The survey questions omitted some details that could likely fuel offensive ads, such as the fact that he drove a state-owned car, according to screenshots reviewed by POLITICO.

There was no major exodus of support for Min’s campaign and he has since gained additional support from law enforcement, such as the unions representing Los Angeles police and sheriff’s deputies. He has also consolidated the bulk of support from local Democratic clubs and is poised to win the endorsement of the state Democratic Party at its convention this weekend.

“If it comes to viability, it’s not something we’ve found to be successful,” Min said. “Other candidates are making this all about my DUI, but won’t articulate their own justifications or arguments about how they could win – or present evidence.”

Meanwhile, Min’s allies point out potential obstacles to Weiss’ candidacy in the general election, such as the fact that she lives about ten miles outside the district boundaries (members of Congress are not required to live within their district). And they sued Weiss for loaning nearly a quarter of a million dollars to her campaign, arguing that the candidacy was financed by her work – and that of her husband – as trial lawyers representing companies accused of harming workers.

A heated primary in March could be water under the bridge in November; many candidates, including Porter herself in 2018, managed to bring together a fractured party and win the general election.

Porter’s campaign projected optimism that Democrats would remain well-positioned for the seat, even as she seeks higher office. Her campaign spokeswoman, Mila Myles, said “whichever Democrat emerges” will benefit from the grassroots organizing she has built in the district.

Yet Baugh, the Republican running again this cycle, can barely hide his giddiness at what he calls a “radically different” landscape compared to 2022, when Porter spent nine times as much as he did. This time, he has already raised more than $1.5 million, about a quarter of a million more than Min and Weiss. He is considered the prohibitive favorite among Orange County Republicans, although he faces a challenge to his right from businessman Max Ukropina.

National Republicans are also content to watch Democrats fight among themselves.

“Democrats are arguing over who is the most extreme liberal while ignoring the urgent concerns of Orange County families: Christmas is coming early for Republicans in this highly competitive race,” said Ben Petersen, spokesman. of the National Republican Congressional Committee.


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