With her victory in 2018, Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) helped to upend a bit of longstanding Democratic Party conventional wisdom—that unabashedly progressive candidates don’t win in historically conservative districts.
Now as one of the rising stars of the party’s progressive wing and one of its top fundraisers, Porter—who raised $2 million in the first quarter of this year alone—has decided to leverage her considerable donor network to boost other candidates who are hoping to pull off the very same feat she did two years ago. This week, the congresswoman is launching a political action committee, called Truth to Power PAC, that will direct funds she’s raised toward a slate of progressive congressional candidates around the country.
The assumption about the party’s most vulnerable lawmakers, said Porter in an interview with The Daily Beast, “that they are moderates—that people who flip seats don’t speak up or don’t speak out—those are really important assumptions to push back on… What’s really important is to allow candidates to compete, and not to limit voters’ opportunities to elect the candidate they believe will best represent them.”
Porter’s organization, typically referred to as a leadership PAC, has announced an initial set of seven endorsements. They’re a mix of candidates who, like Porter, are running on left-wing platforms to flip GOP-held seats; she’s also backing progressives who are running in open seats and one who is primarying an incumbent Democrat.
Those candidates include Ammar Campa-Najjar, a progressive who’s hoping to flip the San Diego-area seat recently vacated by former GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter, as well as Kara Eastman, running against GOP Rep. Don Bacon in Omaha, Nebraska. Both were defeated in 2018. Porter is also backing a first-time candidate, Candace Valenzuela, who is running to replace GOP Rep. Kenny Marchant in a Dallas-area district that leans Republican by an average of 9 points. Valenzuela faces a July primary run-off against Kim Olson, who’s run as a more moderate Democrat.
Porter’s PAC is also jumping into Tuesday’s heated Democratic primaries in New York state. She is backing Jamaal Bowman, the Bronx public school teacher who is primarying Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) in a race that has become the latest battle between the wings of the Democratic Party, as well as Mondaire Jones, the progressive wing’s candidate to succeed retiring Rep. Nita Lowey in the city’s northern suburbs. In an upstate New York seat held by GOP Rep. John Katko, Porter is supporting Dana Balter, a progressive who was defeated in the 2018 midterm and is facing a primary to get another shot at Katko.
In backing a challenger to Engel, her colleague, Porter’s PAC is putting her money where her mouth is after endorsing him on June 15, joining Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). Asked if she’d be planning to endorse more primary challengers—an increasingly accepted but nevertheless controversial move in the House Democratic caucus—Porter said she endorsed Bowman “because of Jamaal Bowman” but said that reshaping the face of the House necessarily entailed replacing established voices with new ones.
“It’s natural to want to preserve the institution,” said Porter, “but we also all have the duty to improve the institution…I think we should be brave enough and tough enough to take on fights that we think, if we think there's an opportunity to improve the representation, energy, diversity, passion, compassion of Congress, we should be able to do that.”
“These choices,” she continued, “are ultimately choices that are up to voters of the district, and not up to bureaucrats in D.C., not up to elected officials or people in charge of the DCCC.”
Typically, first-year lawmakers like Porter don’t start leadership PACs, but instead benefit from their largesse—especially those in competitive districts. Porter represents the southern portions of California’s Orange County, a longtime GOP stronghold that flipped entirely to Democratic control in 2018.
Formerly a professor at the University of California at Irvine and protege of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Porter defeated former Rep. Mimi Walters that year by 4 points, and is favored to win this November over Republican Greg Raths, who has not been named to any level of the “Young Guns” program that the House GOP’s campaign arm uses to identify their most promising recruits.
Meanwhile, no House Democrat in a competitive district has raised more than Porter—she has pulled in $5.6 million since taking office in January 2019. She has pledged not to take any campaign contributions from corporations or lobbyists.