Katie Porter Raised $28 Million Only To Finish Third in California Senate Race

Republican opponent Steve Garvey raised just over $2 million and took second place

Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) (Josh Edelson/Getty Images)
March 6, 2024

California representative Katie Porter (D.) jumped into California’s high-profile Senate race in January armed with a robust fundraising apparatus that helped her amass a $28 million war chest. She took third place in the Tuesday primary.

Former Dodgers first baseman Steve Garvey, a GOP political novice with a fraction of her money, on Tuesday ended both her campaign and—for now—her congressional career. Garvey raised just over $2 million and took second place in the Senate primary while Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, who raised $31 million, placed first. Garvey and Schiff will face off in November.

Porter's third-place finish, in a race where a year ago she polled neck-and-neck with Schiff, is an embarrassing career-ender for Porter, who sought the national limelight for years by writing statistics on her "whiteboard of justice" and scolding CEOs in committee hearings. Yet experts see her loss as inevitable in hindsight.

"Nobody’s going to hand anybody anything in California," said Tim Rosales, a longtime GOP strategist in the state. "I think Katie Porter thought she would be the darling of the left, but that didn’t happen. She had to run a real race."

Rosales said Porter’s fundamental problem was trying to position herself both as a moderate who could represent her purple district in Orange County—traditionally a more conservative part of California—and a progressive. The result was that she couldn’t get voters of either persuasion to trust her, while Schiff snagged moderate Democratic votes and hardcore progressives swung for Democratic Oakland congresswoman Barbara Lee.

"She was a candidate in this race in search of a home," he said.

Others noted Schiff’s strategy of elevating Garvey as his main opponent—a strategy top California Democrats like Gov. Gavin Newsom have deployed in order to win the general election against the candidate they think they have the best chance of beating. California’s primary system puts the top two vote-getters in the general election, regardless of party. The upshot in this case was that the former baseball star got a public image boost that helped consolidate the state’s Republican support.

Rob Stutzman, a Republican consultant and former aide to Arnold Schwarzenegger, said Porter’s fundraising wasn’t formidable enough to forestall Schiff from using this strategy—and that Lee’s presence in the race as a progressive helped leach votes as well.

"Political epitaph is: ‘Here lies Katie Porter. Not enough money and too many progressives,’" Stutzman said.

Over the course of her congressional career, Porter has made waves by saying Republican women don’t count as women when it comes to achieving gender equality in Congress and cultivating a toxic workplace in her office—where she allegedly fired a staffer for giving her COVID-19. She responded to these allegations by saying that "lots of so-called bad bosses are women and people of color." Details of her divorce made headlines as well when her ex-husband accused her of abusing him and dumping hot mashed potatoes on his head.

Last year Porter came under fire for using taxpayer funds to boost her profile during her nail-biter House campaign with self-promoting ads and mailers that closely resembled her political ads.

She also undercut her own Senate campaign just after she announced her bid, telling NBC News that California governor Gavin Newsom should fulfill his promise to appoint a black woman to the U.S. Senate seat she was running for if Sen. Dianne Feinstein resigned. However, she also said she was qualified for the seat because she has a track record of fighting for black people. When Feinstein died months later, Newsom appointed Maryland fundraiser Laphonza Butler to the seat. Butler later said she wouldn’t run to keep the office.

In her aim for higher office, Porter gave up a swing seat in a purple congressional district that she flipped in 2018, which will help determine control of the U.S. House of Representatives next year. Her hand-picked replacement, California state senator Dave Min, was caught on camera lying about how much he drank during a drunk-driving arrest last year.