Porter Complains About ‘Rigged’ Election

Here we go again.

POLITICO (“Katie Porter pulled a Trump move after losing. Democrats are livid.“):

Fellow Democrats are excoriating Rep. Katie Porter for saying her opponents, including rival Rep. Adam Schiff, sought to “rig” California’s Senate primary — language that echoes former President Donald Trump’s election denialism.

Porter finished a distant third in the Super Tuesday contest behind Schiff and Republican Steve Garvey. The swift reaction to her social media outburst underscores how California’s enormously expensive Senate race — for a likely safe Democratic seat — has left lingering bruises. It also raises warnings for Democrats tempted to use rhetoric they’ve condemned as undermining public trust in the nation’s elections.

Porter’s claim spurred an indirect rebuke from Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), who wrote that California’s vote was “not rigged.” And Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), who formerly oversaw California voting as the state’s top elections official, called the notion “ridiculous” without naming Porter.

“It’s not rigged,” Padilla told POLITICO. “As the former secretary of state of California, I can assure you of the integrity of the elections and the results.”

Porter failed to advance beyond the primary after Schiff and a pro-Schiff Super PAC spent millions to buoy Garvey, a former baseball star and first-time political candidate who ran a lackluster campaign. The legal and well-established tactic under California’s top-two primary system nevertheless fueled criticism of Schiff backing a Republican to smooth his path to victory in November.

Porter had already assailed that “brazenly cynical” approach, and she lashed out again on Wednesday in an X post blaming her loss on “billionaires spending millions to rig this election.” She doubled down with a Thursday post saying the vote had been “manipulated by dishonest means.”

On social media, self-identified Democratic voters — including some who said they had supported Porter — expressed alarm that she would insinuate the vote was manipulated.

The backlash was especially notable after a primary campaign in which Porter and other Democrats regularly condemned Trump as an authoritarian threat to democracy. Schiff made that case most forcefully, capitalizing on his fame as an anti-Trump antagonist. The former president repeatedly alleged without evidence that California’s elections are riddled with fraud.

Porter positioned herself as a scourge of moneyed interests that she says corrupt the political process. In addition to facing a spending deluge from the pro-Schiff PAC, Porter was bludgeoned by a cryptocurrency industry offensive.

Caleb Ecarma at Vanity Fair (“Katie Porter Doubles Down on Claim Her Election Loss Was ‘Rigged’”):

That a Democratic lawmaker, and a particularly progressive one, would accuse her political adversaries of rigging an election is a curious choice. The term has become all but synonymous with Donald Trump following his refusal to accept his 2020 loss as legitimate. But rather than backpedal, Porter doubled down after receiving a wave of criticism. “‘Rigged’ means manipulated by dishonest means. A few billionaires spent $10 million+ on attack ads against me, including an ad rated ‘false’ by an independent fact-checker,” Porter wrote Thursday in a follow-up statement. “That is dishonest means to manipulate an outcome.”

“I said ‘rigged by billionaires’ and our politics are—in fact—manipulated by big dark money,” she continued. “Defending democracy means calling that out. At no time have I ever undermined the vote count and election process in CA, which are beyond reproach.”

Matt Lewis at The Daily Beast (“Katie Porter’s Ridiculous ‘Rigged’ Election Sour Grapes“):

To be sure, Porter isn’t claiming that she actually won the election or that the vote count was rigged. Still, you would think she would be a little more careful about tossing around the very term that Donald Trump has weaponized for the last several years.

For years now, people like yours truly have been warning others about the dangers of heated rhetoric that undermines institutions, tears apart the social fabric, and questions the sanctity of elections.

Given the context, responsible leaders should avoid using such rhetoric for the good of the nation. This is true irrespective of whether one is in favor of campaign finance reforms or other structural changes to our electoral system.

Aside from failing to guard her tongue (or Twitter hand, as it were), one gets the sense that politicians like Porter and Trump (and Stacey Abrams) are simply not prepared to admit defeat and accept responsibility for a failed political campaign.

It’s understandable that Porter, who has gained some fame as a progressive pundit, might resent garnering just 14 percent of the vote. But making excuses for poor performance won’t help. As CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski noted: “She lost by 20 points, but is saying the election is rigged because she was outspent.”

It’s also important to note that if Porter had simply won more votes than Garvey—a political novice—she’d still be in the runoff (in California, the top two candidates advance to the runoff, irrespective of political party).

And Porter isn’t the only ungracious loser. According to The New York Times, “Porter’s supporters described Mr. Schiff’s ad strategy as cynical and sexist, noting that it had the effect of locking out a qualified woman from the general election, which will leave the state without a female senator for the first time since 1992.”

If you’re keeping score at home, Porter’s claim is that she didn’t lose to Schiff (a prominent ally of Nancy Pelosi who made a name for himself as an opponent of Donald Trump) because he was a better candidate who has been around longer. She lost because billionaires rigged the system and because Schiff ran a sexist campaign.

Even if this were true, it’s not the kind of thing you would complain about publicly; to do so would label you as a sore loser and not a team player. Here, the maxim “Don’t get mad, don’t get even, get ahead” should rule the day.

Besides, it’s not like she’s as pure as the driven snow. The truth is that Katie Porter takes money from rich people. Every prominent Democratic (and Republican) politician takes money from rich people. Once you accept these terms, then—if you want to win an election—you have to raise enough money to combat what others say about you. Those are the rules. I didn’t write them, but every politician must abide by them.

At the end of the day, I think this is bigger than one race. I think this is a trend. Porter’s behavior tells us a lot about where we are as a society. Instead of graciously conceding defeat, politicians increasingly pretend they won. And even if they don’t go quite that far, they pretend that they somehow would have won (in Porter’s case, she would have overcome a 20-point deficit) if those meddling billionaires hadn’t gotten involved. To save face (and their fragile egos), they make excuses and shift the blame.

I mostly agree with Lewis here but have some sympathy for Porter. Yes, it’s sour grapes and a bad look to whine about losing a race. That’s especially true in a contest in which the eventual winner started in front and never gave up the lead. Here’s the polling aggregate from FiveThirtyEight:

Yes, echoing Trump’s language is especially problematic when “Democracy Is At Stake” is your party’s main election theme. And, yes, whining about the unfairness of it all has been a growing trend.

At the same time, as I noted two weeks ago when I first learned of the effort by Schiff supporters to boost Garvey and ice Porter out, this growing practice is simply unsporting. Calling the outcome “rigged” is silly. But, yes, Schiff and his billionaire pals spent a boatload of money ensuring that someone that has no chance at winning in November appeared on the ballot. It’s not surprising that Porter and her supporters are angry.

Then again, Porter ruffled some feathers of her own when she rushed to begin her campaign for Dianne Feinstein’s seat before Feinstein announced whether she’d run again—and did so in the midst of a natural disaster that killed more than a dozen Californians.

All in all, though, this is just a dumb move on Porter’s part. She’ll need the good will of Schiff and other California Democrats if she wants a political career in the future.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Lounsbury says:

    The accusations that Schiff somehow promoted the Republican seem rather specious – if I understand correctly Schiff merely drew contrast attention to the fellow running, as too conservative for California or something to that effect – he did not to my understanding run black-subterfuge adverts for Garvey, correct?

    If this is correct than the Lefty whinging on is pure nonsense, Schiff played a positioning game – and was better positioned, simple as that….

    It also seems that “sexist” to the Identarian Left resolves to identity based locks.

  2. DK says:

    Unsurprising. Progressives (and Trump) learned this entitled “it’s rigged!” nonsense from Bernie, who deployed that bullshit against Hillary after he got mad that black voters in the 2016 primary weren’t buying what he was selling.

    No candidate was going to get more votes than Adam Schiff. Not in the primary and not in the general election. Apparently she and her supporters are the only people in California unaware of this. Delulu.

  3. EddieinCA says:

    What DK said.

    Additionally, as only a two term congresswoman , her eagerness to jump into the race rubbed most people in CA the wrong way. She badly misread her bona-fides and appeal. Badly.

    Furthermore, she gave up a blue seat in a swing district that could very easily swing back in 2024. It was not a smart move on her part.

  4. Jay L Gischer says:

    Schiff won because he fought Trump and Garvey. I heard of him because of what he accomplished in the House.

    Porter, by contrast, echos Trump and hurls accusations at other Democrats. She seemed reasonable before the primary, but not now.

  5. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    As a piece of history, during the 2002 Republican primary, incumbent Gray Davis took out ads in the LA area attacking Republican Richard Riordan’s commitment to pro-choice. Which had the result of informing R primary voters that Riordan was pro-choice and resulted in the more conservative Bill Simon beating him in the primary. Davis calculated that Simon would be easy to beat in the general (he was).

    Of course, Davis ultimately lost to The Governator in a recall election, which shows to me how he never really bonded in a positive way with the voters of CA.

    Anyway, that’s what playing a manipulative primary game looks like to us Californians. Not this stuff.

  6. Jay L Gischer says:

    You know, sometimes my inner howler monkey wants to cut loose when I’ve lost something important to me. I try to do that in private, though.

  7. Andy says:

    I have not followed any of this beyond a few headlines as I don’t live in CA, but it’s unclear what Porter thinks she can gain by behaving this way.

  8. Kathy says:

    It’s dirty politics, but not a rigged election.

    As to the dirty part, I’d go with the Londo Mollari Principle: I did it to you, because eventually you would have done it to me.

  9. Gustopher says:

    “I said ‘rigged by billionaires’ and our politics are—in fact—manipulated by big dark money,” she [Porter] continued. “Defending democracy means calling that out. At no time have I ever undermined the vote count and election process in CA, which are beyond reproach.”

    She’s not wrong, but she’s not doing herself (or anyone else) any favors either.

  10. DK says:


    Furthermore, she gave up a blue seat in a swing district that could very easily swing back in 2024.

    This is irritating. Progressives typically only win safe blue seats. She won in a swing district. Now this seat probably shifts right, whether Democrats hold it or not. Porter has a unique appeal as an outspoken liberal who doesn’t alienate, and she is threatening to throw it away. Sad.

  11. DK says:

    Porter lost by 20+ points because California voters strongly prefer Adam Schiff, and that would’ve been the case no matter how much money was spent. He could run a 19th-century style front porch campaign and he’d still beat anyone. That’s the state of the race here.

    There is too much money in politics, but this race was not rigged by billionaires. She spent $20+ million and she had Super PAC support, too. Sometimes you gotta take the L.

  12. anjin-san says:

    Porter is a very bright woman, it’s hard to see how she screwed up this badly – taking on Schiff was a losing proposition right out of the gate.

    By making this kind of public complaint, she is just continuing to dig deeper into the hole she has put herself in. Hopefully, she will pull it together and move forward. The Democratic Party needs people with her level of talent.

  13. Scott F. says:

    I voted for Porter on Tuesday. I felt Schiff was secure in his position and I wanted a progressive woman to emerge as Top Two from our jungle primary. It was this more than I preferred Porter over Schiff – I thought both would have been fine representation for California in the Senate.

    But this “rigging” rhetoric has turned me on Porter. It’s a clear indication of her not being ready for a promotion. If I’m any indication, she’s already losing more than she might have stood to gain by making this kind of claim.

  14. I don’t like this one bit and it diminishes my respect for Porter.

    I am not even entirely convinced that Schiff’s commercials are why Garvey came in second (but that is another discussion).

  15. Joe says:

    @Jay L Gischer: When my oldest was 12ish and failed to get his preferred role in the school play, he posted something about the fairness or wisdom of the casting decision on his (new at the time) Facebook page. His mother and I saw the post, directed him to take it down immediately and (I believe) taught him a life lesson about where you express your disappointment (not on social media).

  16. al Ameda says:

    We’re talking post-election style points here. The bigger point in her post-mortem is that I believe that Porter made a serious miscalculation by taking on Schiff to begin with.

  17. Chip Daniels says:

    This is deeply disappointing.
    I was a member of the Orange County Democratic Central Committee a few years ago as she was making her ascent, and I thought very highly of her.

    This move seems like a rare misstep and I hope she stands down and looks for other opportunities to serve.

  18. drj says:

    What is noticeable is that Democrats aren’t having this. Compare that to the GOP.

    The difference isn’t that Democrats can’t be bad actors, but that being a bad actor generally isn’t rewarded in Democratic circles, while it is a precondition to survive a Republican primary.