The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Emily’s List backs Elizabeth Warren acolyte in California congressional race

Katherine Porter, center, testifies before the congressional oversight panel for the Troubled Asset Relief Program on Oct. 27. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

Emily’s List, the progressive organization that boosts female Democrats who support abortion rights, has issued its earliest-ever in-cycle candidate endorsement, throwing support behind Irvine, Calif., law professor Katie Porter in her race against Rep. Mimi Walters (R-Calif.).

The endorsement is a boost for Porter, a first-time candidate who studied under Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) at Harvard Law School and who has been endorsed by the Massachusetts senator and by Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.). It’s also one of the first attempts by a progressive group to provide clarity in the increasingly busy primaries taking place in swing seats, as renewed liberal activism has led to a surge of new candidacies.

“I think Emily’s List will send a strong signal that the eyes of this nation are on this race,” Porter said in an interview. “It’s been very, very supportive throughout the process of starting a campaign. This endorsement is a proof point of the quality of the campaign we’re running.”

It’s also an attempt at solving what has become a slow-burning problem for Democrats — the glut of ambitious candidates seeking offices that the party has struggled to win. Walters was elected in 2014 to fill a traditionally safe Republican seat based in Orange County, taking 65 percent of the vote that year and 60 percent in 2016. That year, the Democrats fielded a token candidate who spent less than $45,000 on his race, and raised even less.

But Hillary Clinton carried the increasingly diverse and highly educated district by five points, leading to a 2018 candidate surge. Porter is one of three Democrats fighting for a runoff slot against Walters, joining David Min, a former staffer for Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Kia Hamadanchy, a former staffer for Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

Porter, an expert in foreclosure who had expected to work on policy in a Hillary Clinton administration — she had packed a suitcase for Washington, unpacking it after the results came in — is attempting to break through.

To win the House for the first time since 2008, Democrats believe they must take all six Republican-held California districts where Clinton defeated Trump. Since the introduction of the two-step primary, California Democrats have sometimes blown opportunities for gains when a crowded field split their vote, allowing two Republicans into a runoff. That’s less likely in Walters’s district — there is no credible Republican challenge — but it’s factored into progressive strategizing about the midterms.