Two Democrats battle to keep Katie Porter’s Orange County U.S. House seat blue

Dave Min and Joanna Weiss pictured from the shoulders up in side-by-side photos
State Sen. Dave Min of Irvine, left, and Joanna Weiss, founder of a progressive candidate advocacy group, have emerged as the top Democratic candidates to take on former GOP Assemblyman Scott Baugh in the battle for Rep. Katie Porter’s seat.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press; Joanna Weiss for Congress)

Armed with a whiteboard and a penchant for grilling corporate executives during congressional hearings, Rep. Katie Porter quickly emerged as an apostle for Democrats in Orange County.

But despite spending millions on her campaign and having a national profile, she won reelection in 2022 by only a sliver. Now, with Porter running for Senate, two top Democratic contenders — state Sen. Dave Min and Joanna Weiss — have emerged for her seat. Former GOP Assemblyman Scott Baugh is the presumptive favorite among Orange County Republicans in the race, but he still faces a challenge in the primary from Max Ukropina.

For Democrats, both in Orange County and nationally, the stakes are high. The 47th Congressional District is among four Orange County-based districts that are expected to be among the nation’s most competitive in this election as Republicans and Democrats fight for control of the House.


“If Democrats can’t keep this seat, they have no hope of winning the House majority, because demographically this is exactly the type of district that is coming into the Democrats’ coalition,” said David Wasserman, a congressional forecaster for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.

In Porter’s district, which includes a large swath of coastal Orange County and Irvine, Democrats have a slight voter registration advantage, but it’s close enough to be a prime target for Republicans.

Orange County’s transformation into a more culturally and economically diverse region has turned the place Ronald Reagan once said was where “good Republicans go before they die” into a political battleground.

In 2018, Democrats, including Porter, flipped four congressional districts in what they celebrated as a “blue wave.” Republicans won back two of those seats in 2020. The 2022 midterms were a stalemate.

“Neither Dave Min nor Joanna Weiss is the phenomenon of Katie Porter, not in their persona, and not in their ability to raise money. And so it’s going to take a lot of resources on the national chessboard coming from the Democrats to make the seat competitive,” said Jon Fleischman, a political strategist and former state GOP executive director.

Several congressional contests in Southern California could determine whether Democrats win back control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

June 11, 2023

For months, Democrats debated over which candidate has the best chance to finish in the top two in the March primary and beat Baugh in the November election, assuming he also advances from the primary.


Min’s supporters cite his appeal with Asian Americans, an impactful group of swing voters; and his support from police unions; as well as his legislative record supporting abortion rights, gun control and environmental protections — stands expected to draw Democrats to the polls.

Weiss has grown a large base of support from anti-Trump suburban women who argue she is the stronger candidate on progressive issues such as abortion and is focused on economic and environmental issues that are pivotal to Orange County voters. Their support is expected to be key to keeping a Democrat in the seat.

Min argues that most female voters over the age of 30 who rank abortion as a top issue are already aligned with Democrats, so “that is not a swing vote at this point.”

Both candidates have spent time — and money — appealing to Democrats by touting their progressive agendas. Min has raised about $1.2 million this cycle, while Weiss has $1.2 million including $225,000 that she lent her campaign. The candidates had roughly $825,000 and $832,000 cash on hand, respectively, according to campaign finance disclosure reports submitted in September.

“Modestly partisan Republicans” in Orange County may be pivotal in deciding hotly contested congressional races that could decide which party controls the House.

Jan. 3, 2024

Min, who has secured endorsements from the California Democratic Party and Porter, this month sent a mailer to voters, including independents, citing his record of protecting abortion rights, pushing for tougher gun laws and writing legislation in an effort to end offshore drilling.

“Those who know CA-47 best ... have overwhelmingly endorsed Dave Min because of his track record of winning tough elections and standing up for the values of Orange County, including defending reproductive rights, advocating for tougher gun laws, working to end offshore oil drilling, and fighting to protect survivors of sex abuse and domestic violence,” Dan Driscoll, Min’s campaign manager, said in a statement to The Times.


In early January, Min dropped his first advertisement in the race, a six-figure video buy that will run on digital and cable platforms; titled “United,” it boasts that “California Democrats are united behind one candidate: Dave Min.”

Weiss, who founded Women for American Values and Ethics, or WAVE, a fundraising and volunteer organization that aims to advance progressive candidates, has picked up endorsements from several members of Congress from California, including Linda T. Sánchez (D-Whittier) and Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose), a close ally of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco).

Weiss’ campaign has pounced on Min’s 2023 DUI arrest as a critical weakness that Baugh could exploit in the general election. The state senator was arrested last May and charged with misdemeanor driving under the influence after a California Highway Patrol officer witnessed him running a red light while driving a state-owned car a few miles from the Capitol.

Min apologized, saying he accepted “full responsibility” and that there was “no excuse” for his actions. Just hours after news of his arrest broke, the California Republican Party distributed an email calling him “DUI Dave” and saying he had “put lives at risk when he made the reckless decision to drive drunk.”

Min’s arrest was enough to sway Orange County Supervisor Katrina Foley — whose district includes many of the same cities as the 47th Congressional District — to endorse Weiss.

“There’s no reason to drive drunk. That’s a bad judgment call and that’s concerning,” said Foley, who ran unsuccessfully against Min in the state Senate primary in 2020. “This is going to get used by Republicans. They’re going to use it against him and he won’t be able to win the general.”


The fight took a tense turn on Thursday, when Weiss’ campaign released an ad alleging Min has accepted money from special interests and criticizing him for driving while intoxicated. The ad included police dashcam video that shows Min swaying as the officer conducts a field sobriety test.

“It’s important that voters in our community understand their choice in this election. Dave Min cannot be trusted and he is a huge liability for Democrats in this must-win race to flip the House,” said Weiss’ campaign manager, Emma Weinert.

Min responded on X that “it’s so disappointing to see Joanna Weiss run such a negative campaign.”

His camp argues that Weiss, a first-time candidate, doesn’t have the name recognition needed to win such a competitive seat.

Questions have also been raised about the source of funds Weiss has used to support her campaign. An article published by the Daily Beast this month suggests the money is income earned by her husband, Jason Weiss, who specializes in labor and employment law at the firm Sheppard Mullin and has defended the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange in child sex abuse lawsuits.

Weiss called the story “a desperate attack.”

“I’m the No. 1 woman fundraiser in the country who isn’t an incumbent in the 2024 cycle,” she said. “I think the article unfairly attempted to highlight the purported self-funding, but we’ve had men completely self-fund their campaigns here in Orange County, and no one asked them where their money came from.”


Could control of Congress depend on California? One Democratic super PAC plans to spend $35 million on key races in the state.

April 11, 2023

As Min and Weiss duke it out, Baugh has been reaching out to swing voters and amassing a $1.5-million war chest, according to his campaign finance disclosures.

To Baugh, the current landscape seems much more favorable to Republicans than in 2022, when he ran in the general election against Porter, an incumbent who outspent him by millions.

For now, Min and Weiss are spending their money fighting each other.

“Whoever emerges from the primary,” Baugh said, “will be a little broken, a little bloodied up.”