Advertisement

Column: Katie Porter goes MAGA, claiming California's election was rigged. It wasn't

LONG BEACH, CA - MARCH 5, 2024 - - U.S. Representative Katie Porter applauds her daughter Betsy Hoffman, 12, off camera, while she introduces her mother to supporters at Porter's watch party at The Bungalow in Long Beach on March 5, 2024. (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)
By claiming she lost a rigged Senate primary, Katie Porter has irresponsibly fueled doubts about our election system, which could jeopardize her political future. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Donald Trump didn’t write Katie Porter’s requiem post on social media. But throw in a few misspellings and capitalized letters, and he very well could have.

“Because of you, we had the establishment running scared,” she told supporters of her unsuccessful U.S. Senate bid in a statement Wednesday night on X. This, Porter continued, despite her being massively outspent on TV and facing an “onslaught of billionaires spending millions to rig this election.”

That word — rig — suggesting there was something illicit, fishy or not entirely kosher about this week’s California primary, wasn’t just groundless and self-serving.

Given today’s fraught environment, it was reckless and wildly irresponsible, like tipping kerosene on a fire, or handing a child a loaded pistol.

There are enough doubts about our embattled election system being sown by Trump and his MAGA movement without Porter, a law professor with a wide following on the political left, leveling her false accusation.

To be clear, Adam B. Schiff and Steve Garvey advanced to a November Senate runoff because they were the preferred choice of California Democrats and Republicans, respectively.

Read more: Column: A land of flaming liberalism? Senate results contradict California stereotype

There was no ballot-stuffing, no illicit payoffs, no decisive carton of uncounted ballots mysteriously turning up in the night at a fruit stand outside Yucaipa. (At least not that we, or Porter, know about.)

The contest for the top two slots and the opportunity to face off in November’s general election wasn’t even close. Porter finished a distant third.

“There was nothing rigged,” said Gale Kaufman, a veteran Democratic strategist who stayed neutral in the Senate race. “She ran, and so did many other people who were on the ballot. She lost.

“When you lose, you have all kinds of reasons,” Kaufman said. “But maybe you should look in the mirror.”

Yes, Schiff boosted Garvey by featuring him in millions of dollars’ worth of TV ads, coaxing Republicans to turn out and push the former Major League Baseball star past Porter, a fellow Democrat who would have been a tougher general election opponent.

And, yes, crypto-industry billionaires spent a small fortune attacking Porter and accusing her of hypocrisy for taking corporate donations at the same time she attacked Schiff for taking corporate donations.

That tactic — special interests protecting their interests by attacking other special interests — may reek of off-the-charts cynicism. But that’s politics. It’s not election-rigging in the way most people would understand the term.

Two explanatory notes that X users appended to Porter’s social media post offered helpful context.

“‘Rigging’ implies illegal manipulation of electoral outcomes, a serious violation undermining democracy,’” said the first.

Being outspent “on advertising ... falls under protected free speech, provided it adheres to campaign finance laws,’” read the second. “It’s not ‘rigging.’”

After a flood of condemnation, on X and elsewhere, Porter posted a follow-up statement.

“‘Rigged’ means manipulated by dishonest means,” the congresswoman from Irvine wrote. “I said ‘rigged by billionaires’ and our politics are — in fact — manipulated by big dark money.”

True enough. There is much to say, and criticize, about the unholy influence of money in our politics.

By then, however, Porter’s back-and-fill explanation was too late. She was drowned out by a chorus of condemnation for her inflammatory use of the R-word.

Among those chiming in was California’s senior U.S. senator, Alex Padilla, a Democrat and the state’s former chief elections officer.

“It’s not rigged,” he told Politico. “As the former secretary of state of California, I can assure you of the integrity of the elections and the results.”

Read more: How Trump propelled Schiff to the general election — and likely a Senate seat

Porter fought hard to win her Orange County seat in 2018 and soon became a household name, wielding her whiteboard like a lance as she took on billionaire CEOs and a gallery of corporate ne’er-do-wells.

Many Democrats were disappointed when she surrendered the seat to run for Senate. The opening has jeopardized the party’s chances of keeping the district in its column, which is crucial if Democrats hope to win control of the House in November.

At age 50, with a robust fundraising base and national following, Porter still has a potentially bright political future. She’s been talked about as a candidate for statewide office as soon as 2026, for attorney general or maybe even governor.

First, though, Porter faces questions about her decision to abandon the House and her constituents to run for Senate, as well as about the graceless and misguided way she exited the contest.

“Instead of stepping off the stage and congratulating Adam Schiff, who won, she’s chosen to be incredibly unhelpful to her party as well as to the people she currently represents,” said Kaufman, the Democratic strategist.

Winning is easy. It’s losing that tests a person’s character and mettle.

Donald Trump has shown himself to be the worst kind of loser, one who would tear down the country and erode faith in its institutions so he can fire up supporters and explain away his defeat.

Katie Porter shouldn’t emulate him.

Get the latest from Mark Z. Barabak
Focusing on politics out West, from the Golden Gate to the U.S. Capitol.
Sign me up.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.