Katie Porter, a professor at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, on Tuesday narrowly defeated her faculty colleague, David Min, to secure a spot on the ballot for a Congressional seat following a hard-fought primary that turned ugly.
Porter snagged 20 percent of the vote—the second-highest percentage behind Republican incumbent Mimi Walters, for whom 53 percent of voters cast their ballot. Min won 17 percent of the vote, but only the top two vote-getters will appear on the November ballot under California’s primary system. (The results aren’t final, as absentee ballots have until Friday to arrive, but Porter currently has a 2,600 vote lead over Min.)
The pool of law professors who run for federal office is fairly small, and it’s highly unusual for two professors from the same campus to compete against one another for the same seat.
The two had enjoyed a friendly relationship before the campaign. Porter said she helped to recruit Min to U.C. Irvine law school five years earlier, and he graduated from Harvard Law school one year after she did. But their relationship has soured amid the campaign, with Porter accusing her faculty colleague of dragging details about her divorce into the spotlight and Min denying involvement.
Porter and Min, both Democrats, hoped to flip traditionally Republican Orange County blue by unseating Walters. California’s 45th Congressional District, which covers parts of Orange County, including the University of California, Irvine, voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, fueling Democratic hopes there.
Porter still has a chance to bring the district into the Democratic fold, having apparently fended off Min and three other challengers in a closely watched primary. Neither Porter nor Min responded to requests for comment Wednesday.
“I am running for Congress to stand up to Trump and Mimi Walters, and to be the congresswoman that fights for OC families, not powerful special interests,” Porter wrote on Twitter after the results came in. “Tonight, thanks to 1000s of voters who cast a ballot for change, we moved one step closer to taking our fight to Washington.”
In a message on his campaign website, Min on Wednesday urged supporters to vote for Porter, while also acknowledging the rough and tumble nature of the campaign.
“I realize this has been a heated primary, but there is simply too much at stake to let our differences get in the way,” Min wrote. “Real lives are on the line.”
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Political pundits characterized Porter and Min’s campaigns as a proxy for the larger fight over the future of the Democratic party between its more progressive and centrist wings. Porter, a protege of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., lands on the liberal end of the spectrum, with Min, a former policy adviser for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on the more conservative end. Warren endorsed Porter, as did Sen. Kamala Harris, D.-Calif. Min, meanwhile, secured the endorsement of the state’s Democratic Party.
Porter announced her candidacy on April 3, and Min joined the race two days later. He said in an interview at the time that the two speak, but not about politics. “In some ways, I think it’s exciting to have two people with good credentials for this,” he said.
But the relationship between the two professors deteriorated over time. Porter told the Huffington Post in May that she believed Min was behind a whisper campaign against her, insinuating that elements of her 2013 divorce from an abusive husband rendered her unelectable.
“Dave Min is making desperate, false and sexist attacks against Katie Porter in order to cover up his own record siding with corporate interests,” reads a message on her campaign website.
Porter supporters also told the Huffington Post that things got tense at the California Democratic Party Convention in February when Min won the party’s endorsement by just one vote. Some Min supporters tried to intimidate Porter’s team from collecting enough signatures to force a second vote, they claimed. Min’s campaign manager responded that the campaign did not employ either rumors or intimidation to get ahead.
In a Facebook message posted after the Huffington Post story went live, Min expressed concern for Porter over her abuse at the hands of her ex-husband but denied any involvement in spreading rumors about her divorce. Min’s wife, Jane Stoever, is the director of Irvine’s domestic violence clinic, it notes.
“We teach at the same law school as Katie Porter,” the post reads. “We all went to Harvard Law School around the same time. We know a lot of the same people, including some of each other’s campaign supporters. But we make a concerted effort to steer away from personal gossip and, particularly given Jane’s work on domestic violence, we would not ever propagate rumors that shame someone for being a victim.”
He called Porter’s allegations “deeply distressing and hurtful to our family.”
Despite those jabs, Irvine law professor Rick Hasen said Wednesday that the competing campaigns did not create an awkward situation on campus.
“Of course, everyone was aware of the race, and those who live in the district—I don’t—got a lot of mail and other contact about the race, where David and Katie were vying for one of the top two spots to get on the general election ballot,” Hasen said. “But Katie and David are professionals and continued in their normal roles in the law school community during the campaign.”