It was a day of good news and bad news for law professors on Tuesday’s ballot.
Katie Porter, a professor at the University of California, Irvine School of Law and protégé of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, appears to have narrowly lost her closely watched bid to unseat Republican incumbent Mimi Walters for a congressional seat. The historically red Southern California district voted for Hillary Clinton two years ago, and progressives had hoped to flip the seat. Porter had yet to concede Wednesday afternoon, though vote counts had Walters with 52 percent and Porter with 48 percent. (Mail-in ballots were still being counted Wednesday morning.)
Meanwhile, West Virginia University College of Law professor Kendra Fershee was defeated handily by Republican incumbent David McKinley by more than 28 percent for a U.S. House seat. That outcome was not unexpected, however, as the district skews heavily Republican.
But there was some good news for legal academics at the polls. University of Colorado Law School professor Phil Weiser, who served as dean from 2011 to 2016, looks to have eked out a victory to become Colorado’s next attorney general. The race was so tight that his opponent, Republican George Brauchler, did not initially concede. Vote counts as of Wednesday morning put Weiser at 49.7 percent of the vote to Brauchler’s 47.5 percent.
And Republican Josh Hawley, who until 2017 was a professor at the University of Missouri School of Law, unseated Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill for one of Missouri’s two seats in the U.S. Senate. He won 51.5 percent of the vote to McCaskill’s 45.5 percent.
“This campaign has been a wonderful experience—it was hard work, but I have had the opportunity to meet thousands of people who share my love for this great state,” Hawley wrote in a message to supporters on his website.
Hawley’s stint in academia was relatively short. He taught constitutional law and torts at the Columbia, Missouri, law school for six years before successfully running for Missouri attorney general in 2016. He was in that position for less than a year before launching his bid to unseat McCaskill—a vulnerable Democrat in an increasingly red state.
Prior to joining the Missouri Law faculty, Hawley clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts and was an associate in the appellate litigation practice at Hogan Lovells. He was also senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which advocates for religious freedom.
Porter’s apparent loss in California’s 45th Congressional District is a bitter one for Democrats, who hoped traditionally Republican voters in the suburbs and an increasingly diverse population would elect a progressive in a rebuke of President Trump. Porter looks to have fallen just short of that goal, garnering 48 percent of the vote in a House district that covers parts of conservative Orange County.
Porter took on Waters after a bruising primary that pitted her against fellow Irvine Law professor David Min. The two were initially friendly—Porter said she helped recruit Min to the law school—but the relationship soured during the campaign, with Porter accusing her opponent and colleague of dragging details about her divorce into the spotlight. (Min denied doing so.)
Weiser’s seemingly successful campaign for Colorado’s open attorney general post was also hard-fought. He ran on a campaign that positioned the job as an opportunity to craft policy. Brauchler said the attorney general’s job is to help the governor and state lawmakers in crafting legislation within the bounds of the law.
“We in Colorado have a unique opportunity to be a model for our nation during a challenging time. The hard issues we can confront—building an inclusive Colorado, managing our water in the face climate change, addressing the opioid epidemic, and providing accessible and affordable health care, to name a few—are challenges that are not being addressed in Washington,” Weiser said in a statement.
Fershee said in a Facebook post Wednesday morning that her congressional bid, while unsuccessful, had an impact in West Virginia.
“The outcome wasn’t what we wanted, but there was value in the effort and I am grateful to the believers out there who invested so much of themselves to try and make a change in this state we love. And we did make a change, which is just the beginning,” she wrote.