The intraparty battle between two Democrats vying for Rep. Katie Porter’s toss-up Orange County seat is rapidly emerging as one of the most vicious primary battles in California.
The latest salvo: an ad from state Sen. Dave Min accusing his rival, Joanna Weiss, of powering her campaign with money earned through the legal defense of sex offenders. The attack comes a week after Weiss released an ad slamming Min for his DUI arrest last year.
The volley of attack ads is the most public manifestation yet of a feud that has been playing out in Democratic circles for months. The two camps have been making their case to party bigwigs and activists that their rival’s baggage could compromise Democrats’ chances of holding on to a hard-fought swing seatthat could very well tip the balance of power in the House in November.
Now, those behind-the-scenes arguments are playing out on the airwaves, increasing the risk that either Democrat could emerge from the primary weakened against the likely Republican contender, Scott Baugh. Baugh, a former Republican lawmaker who came within 4 percentage points of Porter in the district in 2022, has consolidated much of the GOP establishment support and has built a war chest with an eye toward the general election.
Min’s ad, which is part of a six-figure streaming and digital buy, was released on Friday.
“Why is Joanna Weiss attacking Dave Min?” asks the ad’s narrator. “To hide the fact that she and her husband made millions defending Catholic priests found guilty of molesting children in Orange County — money that Joanna is using to fund her campaign. Those aren’t the values we want in Congress.”
The ad cites a report from the Daily Beast that delved into work by Weiss’ husband, attorney Jason Weiss, to defend the Catholic Diocese of Orange County in multiple sex abuse cases.
Dan Driscoll, Min’s campaign manager, called the accounts in the story “as disgusting as they are disqualifying.”
“Joanna Weiss has run a 100% negative campaign to hide the fact that she is funding her campaign with money through truly despicable means,” Driscoll said in a statement. “State Senator Dave Min stands with survivors of sexual abuse and assault and is proud to have 8 bills signed into law providing them greater means of protection and justice.”
Weiss’ campaign pushed back against the allegations in the ad, noting that Jason Weiss primarily represented the diocese on employment matters and did not make millions of dollars through that legal work.
While Weiss, a former lawyer who founded a volunteer political activism group in 2018, has loaned herself significant money during the course of the race — roughly $230,000, according to campaign finance filings — her campaign said the money came from refinancing her house, not her husband’s earnings.
“Dave Min is resorting to lies to distract voters from his criminal history and that he would be serving his first term in Congress on probation,” said Emma Weinert, Weiss’ campaign manager. “Orange County deserves a leader who keeps their promises and will not turn to these defamatory, sexist attacks.”
Min was arrested last May in Sacramento for drunk driving after a night of receptions with lobbyists. He pleaded no contest and was sentenced to three years probation. He has spoken frankly about the incident as “the worst mistake of my life.”
Electability has been at the heart of the fight between the two Democrats vying for the coastal Orange County seat. For months, Weiss’ allies have argued that Min’s drunk driving arrest — which took place in Sacramento after a night of receptions with lobbyists — is so politically toxic that his candidacy would offer a pickup opportunity for Republicans, who are mostly playing defense in key California House races this year.
Weiss has a powerful ally on her side — EMILYs List, a group that supports pro-abortion rights women candidates. The organization has made Weiss a top priority for this election cycle and announced a $1 million television and digital ad buy to boost her.
While some national Democrats say Min’s arrest remains a concern, he has not seen a major exodus of supporters. He has touted his early endorsement from Porter, as well as the backing of the state Democratic Party and the endorsement by the Los Angeles Times editorial board, which both came after the arrest. Other allies have mounted a vigorous defense of the state lawmaker, including the board of Democrats of Greater Irvine, who wrote a letter to EMILYs List accusing them of backing a “flawed” candidate.
Major players such as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have stayed on the sidelines. That has left the Min and Weiss campaigns digging in for trench warfare and making their electability argument directly to the judges who matter most: the voters.