Katie Porter and Dave Min are the type of candidates House Democrats dreamed of recruiting in past cycles. Both are Harvard-educated law professors with impressive biographies, connections to powerful lawmakers and strong fundraising capabilities.
The only problem? The colleagues at the University of California-Irvine are battling one another for the right to face Rep. Mimi Walters (R-CA) next fall.
“On some level it’s bizarre,” Min told TPM. “It’s unusual, obviously, that two members of a small faculty are doing this.”
Their race is emblematic of the double-edged sword it is for a party to have a glut of candidates eager to run for office.
In nearly every top-targeted race across the country, Democrats face competitive primaries that could complicate their party’s chances of winning the majority.
“I haven’t seen this much enthusiasm to run this early in a cycle,” said Dave Wasserman, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report’s House race guru. “It’s a good problem to have.”
“It does seem like there’s a primary in every single race,” said John Lapp, a top Democratic ad-maker.
Lapp said that some primaries will “get bloody and ugly” and flawed nominees might win in some places — but on balance he’d rather have too many than too few candidates running.
“The days of attempting to clear primaries are over but to be honest I’d much rather have the abundance of energy than the problem we’ve had before, begging one candidate to get in. What you want is surfboards all over if the wave comes,” he said.
Ian Russell was a top staffer at Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee the last few election cycles — and spent a lot of time begging. The Obama years weren’t an easy time for House Democratic candidate recruitment.
This year, he’s a consultant working with a number of candidates, including Min, who face the opposite problem: Tough primaries against other top-tier Democrats.
“There’s just less control from the party headquarters when you have these freewheeling primaries,”Russell said. He argued that while some will help promising candidates “get in shape, learn the ropes and become a better candidate,” in more places it’s not helpful.
“You’re spending money earlier than you want to, you’re campaigning to a different audience than you need for the general election — and most stressful for the DCCC, you can’t guarantee the outcome of the primary,” Russell said.
Five different Democratic candidates running against Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA) in a Democratic-leaning district outside of Washington, D.C. already have more than $200,000 banked apiece for the race, with the establishment’s favorite, state Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D), trailing the four others in cash on hand.
A whopping nine Democratic candidates have filed to run against Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) in suburban Chicago.
At least two serious candidates are squaring off to face Walters and Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Ed Royce (R-CA) — and that’s just around Orange County.
Even in reach seats, like against Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), there are two legitimate Democrats in the race.
But in few places is a primary more awkward than in Irvine.
Porter helped recruit Min to come teach at UC-Irvine’s law school a few years back. When each heard last spring that the other one was looking to challenge Walters in a Democratic-trending seat that Hillary Clinton won by 5 points last fall, they got together to discuss (he said he came away believing she wouldn’t to run; she said she made it clear she would).
While they say they don’t see each other much these days, on Porter’s first day of the semester, “The first guy in the classroom after me was Dave,” getting ready to teach the next period, she said.
“It’s fine. Dave lives in my neighborhood. It is what it is,” she told TPM.
Porter has the backing of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who taught her at Harvard, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), with whom she worked investigating home foreclosures in California, and EMILY’s List. She’s spent decades investigating banks as a consumer advocate, and has positioned herself to the left in the primary.
Min, who worked for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and the liberal Center for American Progress on banking and housing issues, is the only Democrat in the race who isn’t calling for single-payer health insurance. Both have testified in front of Congress on several occasions, and raised more than $300,000 in their first three months in the race.
Kia Hamadanchy, a former staffer to Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), tops a list of four other Democrats who have declared for the race.
Waiting for the winner is Walters, who already has $1.1 million stashed away.
The results of having so many primaries will likely be a mixed bag for Democrats.
Some contests will make the eventual nominee stronger, helping them build name I.D. and winnowing the field of candidates who look better on paper than on the stump. In others, a crowded field will force a race to the left, waste valuable resources and potentially lead to flawed nominees.
That’s a risk in places like downstate Illinois, where Democrats’ chances of beating Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL) likely depend on whether they can keep hard-left repeat candidate David Gill from winning the Democratic primary again.
Republican pros are delighted by the prospect of packed Democratic primaries.
“These crowded primaries are going to pull the entire field left, whether it’s on supporting single payer or other far left issues favored by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren,”said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Matt Gorman. “Even if the DCCC gets their favored candidates through, they’re going to be unelectable in a general election — and that’s a big if.”
According to data pulled together by the NRCC, there are six or more declared Democrats in 10 of their top 43 defensive seats, while just four have only one Democratic candidate. The average competitive race has four declared Democrats, though some are much more serious than others.
And while the DCCC is reserving the right to get involved in primaries to boost their preferred candidates, party officials say they’re not worried about what the crowded primaries will yield.
“No side has ever lost an election because of too much energy, that much is clear. Ultimately the Democrats are the side with the energy while Republicans are stuck on defense deep into the map,” said DCCC spokesman Tyler Law.