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Rep. Katie Porter taps Iowa roots, long history with Elizabeth Warren in stumping for the senator

Melanie Mason, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Political News

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa -- There's no shortage of politicians flitting around Iowa these days, as pre-caucus politicking hits its peak. But Rep. Katie Porter wants to make one thing clear: She's not like the others.

It's evident from her opening anecdote, which she delivers at school gym rallies and living room gatherings as a top surrogate for Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Her audiences, no strangers to political tourists, immediately chuckle when she describes her (unnamed) congressional colleagues announcing with childlike wonder that they're headed to Iowa "for the first time!"

Before a Cedar Rapids house party, she flashed a conspiratorial grin: "Suckers! They're gonna be so cold."

It was an incongruous punchline coming from a woman whose congressional district in Irvine, Calif., was, at that moment, nearly 40 degrees warmer -- and that was the point. Porter's pitch is rooted not just in who she is -- a first-term Democratic congresswoman from Orange County -- but also who she was: a daughter of rural Iowa who made it to Harvard Law School and a front-row seat in then-professor Warren's bankruptcy law class nearly 20 years ago.

The Warren campaign is wagering that Porter's blend of Hawkeye bona fides and long history with her candidate will persuade caucusgoers who may like the Massachusetts senator but worry about her general election prospects. Porter, an unabashed Warren acolyte from a swing district, tackles those electability fears head-on, even as political opponents back home hope to use her endorsement against the senator.

"She's Orange County, Iowa," said Dan Newman, a Democratic strategist who worked on Porter's 2018 campaign. "There's not a lot of Orange County, Iowa."

 

Porter, 46, was born in Fort Dodge, Iowa, and grew up on a farm in Winterset. Her stump speech recalls when the rural town's bank closed during the farm crisis of the 1980s, sparking her interest in consumer protections.

The anecdote offers an easy transition to Warren's signature emphasis on consumers, but Porter makes clear that their bond goes deeper than shared ideology.

"I should just disclose: I have three children. None of them are named Joey, Peter or Bernie," she told an audience over breakfast bites in an Iowa City living room. "But I have a daughter named Elizabeth."

Porter met her daughter's namesake in the fall of 2000, when she was a third-year law student at Harvard. Since then, Elizabeth, as Porter exclusively calls her, has been a research partner and political mentor. (The first-name basis, Porter said in an interview, began "after I graduated -- definitely not until after I graduated.")

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