Can Orange County’s Kathy Porter Win a U.S. Senate Seat?

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Rep. Kathy Porter addresses a crowd in Huntington Beach during a campaign rally in October. The Orange County Democrat has announced she will run for the Senate seat currently held by Dianne Feinstein.

Los Angeles Times file

Kathy Porter, the embattled congresswoman from Orange County, is running for Senate. But does anyone north of the Los Angeles area know who she is? Does she have a chance?

And will the incumbent, Senator Dianne Feinstein, run again?

Porter, 49, last week became the first Democrat to officially enter the race. Feinstein, who will be 91 on Election Day in 2024, has had memory problems and has decided not to run for Senate President Pro Tem, which would have made it her third run for the presidency.

After Porter entered the race, she said: “I will announce my plans for 2024 at the appropriate time.”

Now it is impossible to understand what it could be.

“At the early stage of the Senate campaign, the goal is to build confidence and momentum. Porter and the other candidates need to become better known beyond the MSNBC audience and progressive Twitter,” said veteran California Democratic consultant Rose Kapalczynski.

After speaking with analysts and consultants, here’s Porter’s current outlook:

Why Porter can win

She wins difficult races. Porter represents a swing district that is often targeted by Republicans. Porter was elected to Congress in 2018, defeating two-term incumbent Mimi Walters, the first time a Democrat has won since the district was created in 1953.

Porter was one of the GOP’s top targets last year, but she edged out Republican Scott Boe with 51% of the vote.

She can collect a lot of money. Porter picked up 25.4 million dollars for her 2022 House campaign, second-highest among House candidates behind only current Speaker Kevin McCarthy. She received $7.7 million, which she can use for her Senate campaign.

Last week, Porter raised $1.38 million online within 24 hours of her announcement on January 10. She has not taken money from corporate or political committees and has not in her entire career.

She has a political brand. Porter is known for her whiteboard, which she regularly uses during congressional hearings to make her points easy to understand.

Porter is known for her fierce criticism of corporate and administration officials. Before joining Congress, she was a consumer advocate.

“She has spent her life and career working for important interests and protecting families,” said Porter’s spokesman, Nathan Click.

Porter was a student at Elizabeth Warren Law School, and the two worked together on consumer protection issues. Warren, now a Democratic senator from Massachusetts, – supported Porter for the Senate last week.

She can win from a field with several candidates. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, is expected to run. Rep. Ro Han, D-Fremont, is said to be considering the race. Feinstein is a former mayor of San Francisco.

While Rep. Adam Schiff, R-LA, is also on the board, Porter could benefit from her base in Orange County, as the district has high voter turnout — often higher than others other areas of Southern California. Meanwhile, Lee, Hanna and possibly Feinstein could end up splitting the vote in Northern California.

“When Ro Hana is running, you have two people in the Bay Area. Then it’s a guess who might win,” said Christian Grose, academic director of the Schwarzenegger Institute at the University of Southern California.

Why would Porter have a problem

She is from Southern California. Democratic turnout tends to be higher in the North. “It gives an advantage to candidates from northern California,” Grose said.

Upstate candidates have dominated top-level races for years.

The North has dominated statewide races for years.

Governor Gavin Newsom, like Feinstein, is a former mayor of San Francisco. Vice President Kamala Harris, elected to the Senate in 2016, is a native of Oakland, succeeding Sen. Barbara Boxer, whose political roots are in Marin County. Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., of Los Angeles, but had the advantage of being appointed by Newsom to replace Harris so he could run last year as an incumbent.

But Click noted that Porter seems to understand that she needs to build support in Northern California. Porter’s first event as a Senate candidate was in Walnut Creek, in the Bay Area. On Tuesday, the rally gathered more than 300 people.

It has a smaller support base than the others. “I doubt most people have ever heard of her,” said Wesley Hussey, a political science professor at California State University in Sacramento.

Lee, on the other hand, is well known in political circles.

She was the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. She gained national attention three days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when she was the only member of Congress vote against giving President George W. Bush broad authority to use military force against Afghanistan.

She needs to appeal to minority voters. Lee has a strong reputation in the black community. “I think what makes a candidate top is appeal to the base, and that’s people of color, especially women of color,” said Aimee Ellison, president and founder of She The People, an Oakland-based network of women of color.

Click, however, cited a statewide poll commissioned by Porter that showed Porter leading the potential Democratic primary by 30%. Schiff was 29%. Lee had 9% and Hannah had 6%. In the second round of the leaders, Porter is ahead of Schiff by 11 percentage points.

She may not defeat the Liberals. Hanna has become a liberal hero, and many supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vetriania, are urging him to run for president. Lee was co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Lee, Hana, and Shif got them all 100% rating ffrom the liberal organization Americans for Democratic Action in 2021, the latest information available. Porter received 90% in 2020 and 2021 and 85% in 2019, which still puts her in the liberal camp.

Click pointed out that Porter is a member of the progressive caucus, and he was quickly approved by Committee for Progressive Changeleading liberal group, in the Senate.

However, it will be difficult to break away from the field. “With three progressive members of Congress likely to compete in the primary, it will be difficult to craft a clear message and stand out from the field,” Kapalczynski said.

David Lightman is McClatchy’s chief congressional correspondent. He has been writing, editing and teaching for nearly 50 years, with stops in Hagerstown, Maryland; Riverside, California; Annapolis; Baltimore; and since 1981 – Washington.

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