Two years ago, few political analysts would have guessed a progressive Democrat would tear down the “Orange Curtain” in California’s 45th Congressional District, an historically red district in a sea of blue.
Yet Katie Porter, a University of California–Irvine law professor did just that. And on Nov. 4, preliminary results showed Porter with 54 percent of the vote, and her Republican challenger Greg Raths with 46 percent.
When Raths spoke to The Epoch Times on Nov. 1, he said he was expecting a win by about four percentage points. “We have an amazing ground game,” he said.
Raths raised about $1.5 million for his campaign (Porter raised about $15 million), “which is really, really good for me,” he said. “I’m not part of the ruling class, or the ruling elites here in Orange County. I would say I was probably not their first choice for this district, but I worked my butt off during the primary, and I won.”
Porter didn’t reply to interview requests by press deadline.
In the primaries, Porter garnered 50.8 percent of the vote. The rest were split among six Republicans, with Raths coming out on top at 17.9 percent. The state uses a top-two primary system, in which all candidates appear on the same ballot, with the top two vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, moving on to the general election.
In the district, there were more registered Republican voters than Democratic ahead of the election. There were about 167,000 registered Republicans, about 165,000 registered Democrats, and about 122,000 no party preference.
Jacob James, 28, of Lake Forest registered as no party preference, but he told The Epoch Times he voted for Raths and President Donald Trump.
“I want to see more Republicans here in California. I think Democrats have taken over too much of it,” he told The Epoch Times on Nov. 2. “A lot of people are fleeing California because of what’s going on here, and the coronavirus is really bringing that out. So I want to see some change in that.”
Pat Statham, 63, of Portola Hills was a lifelong Republican, but he registered as a Democrat this year. “I was so upset with Republican Party,” he told The Epoch Times. “Everything changed when we got Trump in. I think that was a mistake getting a business guy that still thinks he’s on TV.”
While Statham voted for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, he backed Raths for the 45th District seat.
He told The Epoch Times Porter has done, “fair, nothing spectacular.” He said he would have liked her to be “a little more open to the community … talk to the people more.”
He said he voted for Raths because Raths is a former Marine.
Debbie, a District 45 resident who declined to give her last name, also criticized Porter for lack of community engagement. “You don’t stay out of your district for at least four months,” she said.
“Raths fought for our country, and he is a successful businessman. As the Mayor of Mission Viejo, he had enough reserves in the account and he made the city very fiscally sound,” Debbie told The Epoch Times.
With Republicans holding most mayoral and city council seats in eight out of 10 cities in the congressional district, and both state senate seats, Raths said Porter was “a duck out of water.”
Raths said the Republican advantage gap has “narrowed from about a plus 7 Republican advantage in 2014 to a plus 3 in 2016, to right now, it’s a plus one—a 1.2 Republican advantage.”
The battleground cities have been Irvine and Laguna Woods, Raths said, and the Republicans have fought hard there ahead of the elections to win back seats. Laguna Woods is almost evenly split between registered Republican and Democratic voters. Irvine has 14.8 percent more Democratic voters than Republican.
“We did go after the other eight cities, but we really hit Irvine, and we hit Laguna Woods as hard as Trump is hitting Michigan and Pennsylvania,” Raths said.
When Democrats won every congressional seat in Orange County in 2018, Republicans cried foul. Then-House Speaker Paul Ryan cast doubt on the integrity of the state’s voting system and mentioned ballot harvesting.
When asked if he thought there was something wrong with the count, Ryan replied, “No, I just think it’s weird,” according to a transcript of an interview with the Washington Post published Nov. 30, 2018.
The remark drew the ire of California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who told Politico “it is bizarre that Paul Ryan cannot grasp basic voting rights protections.”
Porter, 46, grew up on a farm in Iowa. During the farm crisis in the 1980s, her parents struggled to keep the farm and watched many of her neighbors lose theirs.
Porter was once a student of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), then a professor at Harvard Law School. She pursued a career in bankruptcy and consumer protection law and was hired at the University of California–Irvine in 2011.
Soon after, then-California Attorney-General Kamala Harris appointed Porter to oversee mortgage industry reforms.
She campaigned for Warren in the Democratic National Committee primaries, but later backed the Biden-Harris ticket.
She has pushed for universal health care, cutting the cost of prescription drugs, and has been a strong advocate for consumer protection and stricter gun-control laws.
Porter’s campaign website indicates she wants to “overturn Trump’s tax plan” and supports a “comprehensive immigration reform that will provide a fair pathway to citizenship for those who are undocumented.”
“I will fight any efforts by Republicans to defund Planned Parenthood, restrict access to birth control, or ban the right to choose,” she states on her website.
She highlights some accomplishments from her time in office, including leading a bipartisan effort to pass a bill in repealing Trump’s cap on state and local tax deductions, enacting conservation laws to protect the environment, and expanding mental health services to veterans.
Raths, 67, is a retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel and Mission Viejo city councilmember and mayor.
He grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, graduated from college in 1975, when he began his military career. He was stationed in Orange County in 1977. During Operation Desert Storm, Raths flew more than 75 combat missions and led a fighter squadron aboard aircraft carriers, including the USS Abraham Lincoln.
Raths later served as chief of staff and chief financial officer of The White House Military Office. He retired at the rank of colonel in 2004. He then moved to Mission Viejo, where he worked as a commercial airline pilot. Ten years later, Raths ran for city council and won, and has since served as mayor.
The Epoch Times reporter Jack Bradley contributed to this report.