This past Sunday, Democrat, San Francisco Bay Area resident and recent Deputy Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of Commerce Ro Khanna officially declared his bid for California’s 17th Congressional District, currently occupied by Democratic Congressman Mike Honda, at an event his campaign organized at De Anza College in Cupertino, California.
Speakers at the event included:
“Home to Apple, Google and other high-tech pioneers, the 17th Congressional District here recorded a political first in last fall’s elections, becoming the first majority Asian-American district in the mainland United States. … The Congressional seat itself was easily retained by Michael M. Honda, a Democrat first elected in 2000 and one of the most influential Asian-Americans in Congress. A Japanese-American whose views on politics and civil rights were shaped by his internment during World War II, Mr. Honda, 71, helped build a network for Asian-American political aspirants here and served as a mentor to many. But a possible challenge to Mr. Honda in 2014 — coming from Ro Khanna, 36, an Indian-American lawyer who served as a deputy assistant secretary in the Commerce Department and is a rising star in the Democratic Party — has already set off intense maneuvering inside the district.”
Silicon Valley and the greater San Francisco Bay Area is fairly democratic, so whoever wins the Democratic primary next June 2014 will essentially be the next Congressman for California’s 17th Congressional district. In general, beating any Congressional incumbent is a challenge. In the 2012 election:
“Only 64 of the 435 House races were decided within a 10 percentage-point margin, according to a Governing review of elections data. Of all incumbents vying to retain their seats in the general election, just 21 had been defeated as of Tuesday. In 2010, 79 House races had margins of victory less than 10 percent and 54 incumbents lost.”
In 2012, Congressman Mike Honda won 73.5% of the vote against Republican challenger Evelyn Li. Honda has been in Congress since 2001 and has been involved politically and in local politics in San Jose & Silicon Valley since the 1970s.
So it is no surprise that many Democrats are disappointed or even angry that ambitious fellow Democrat Ro Khanna is running against Honda. In general, voters vote for the familiar and incumbent Congressmen are often re-elected again and again. The more seniority one has, the more influence they have in Congress – it’s a self-reinforcing cycle. A fellow Democratic Congressman, Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) expressed his distaste for Khanna’s run for Honda’s seat: “You already get the sense that that burn rate from a huge team of consultants and all of the fundraising firepower, millions of dollars that Democrats need around the country to win races and take back the House, are instead going to be diverted to an intramural fight between Democrats,” Huffman said. “For no real reason. Mike Honda is a great member of Congress.”
Personally, I think every elected official, no matter how well liked or popular he or she is, should not run unopposed in a general election. We live in a democracy and elected officials should be answerable to the public. Given that unless Honda is caught in some sort of scandal, his seat is generally assured if he doesn’t have any Democratic primary opposition. Unfortunately, any political race requires the raising of money. Ideally, a Khanna vs. Honda race would be more about a fight of ideas and substance without the expenditure of huge sums of money. However, I can understand about how the Democratic establishment (or for that matter if the tables were turned, the Republican establishment) feels about Khanna running.
At Khanna’s event, I did notice a big absence of other elected public officials I would normally see. Back in 2008, when I attended Jackie Spears’ run for Congress, almost every single mayor and city council member of note attended her kickoff campaign. To no surprise, the Silicon Valley Democratic establishment is supporting Honda. I do have to give credit to Khanna for taking up such a challenge. At age 36, I was overall impressed with his Obama-like inspired speech and themes. And as I have challenged other Democrats on Facebook and email, back in 2007 – 2008, everyone (including Hillary Clinton) though that the Democratic presidential primary was a far gone conclusion. Khanna has raised over $1 million when he considered, but ultimately decided against running for a different seat a few years earlier.
What is also interesting is that I think this is the first Congressional race I’ve been exposed to where there are two Asian American candidates running, with Congressman Mike Honda, a Japanese American and Ro Khanna, an Indian American. There is a large Indian American community in the district, but I think Honda’s strong overall support from the electorate will cause voting to be along any ethnic lines – given that both candidates are probably fairly similar in the positions on the issues.
Given how name recognition and seniority can play a very strong role for down ballot races, it’ll be a long road ahead for Khanna. Honda is supported by President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and almost the entire Californian Democratic congressional delegation. I’m guessing that Honda will win by a landslide. I have no doubt that Khanna recognizes the challenge and possibly sees this as one step to raise his name recognition and profile. And at age 36, Khanna has plenty of opportunities down the road to run and eventually win a seat in Congress (maybe after Honda decides to retire).
A quick overview from the campaign event: