I had the privilege to attend the only debate (at least in the press pool at NBC Bay Area) this fall between candidate Ro Khanna and Congressman Mike Honda, who is running for re-election for California’s 17th Congressional District in November. Due to California’s new open primary season, these two Democrats are facing each other after the June primary. For those into Democratic politics, this is the debate that politicos are watching. The San Francisco Chronicle nicely summarized my thoughts on the debate:
“Honda, who was often on defense, didn’t deliver the kind of crisp, practiced answers that Khanna frequently recited by rote during the televised debate — many of them the same lines he uses on the campaign stump. Unlike Khanna, who looked into the camera and often was on the attack during the debate in a TV studio in San Jose, Honda sometimes lapsed into political speak. But Honda strongly and repeatedly defended his record as one of delivering millions of dollars in projects — like BART to San Jose, a matter he repeatedly referenced — and his assists on issues like the founding of a patent office in San Jose. Khanna was careful to avoid personal attacks on Honda, whom he repeatedly praised as a good man and lawmaker. But he slammed the congressman’s record and even his attendance in the House.”
Overall, I thought Khanna was clearly a more energetic, better speaker and debater that also likes to be wonkish and is comfortable in front of the camera.
Since this is Honda’s toughest political battle since he first ran for office over a decade ago, Honda seemed a little nervous to me. I’ve met and heard Honda many times, and he’s more of a folksy person than an eloquent speaker, but I thought he would have been a little bit more polished for the debate. Overall, the debate was fairly civil, though Khanna did go on the offensive, as expected and as he should have, given that he is the underdog with less name recognition than incumbent and long-time area resident, community leader and Congressman.
I think I am like a lot of people who like Khanna but wish he weren’t running against Honda. Khanna could be a Congressman that could represent Silicon Valley well, though I do wonder as a freshman Congressman, wonder how much he could actually accomplish, but certainly would use the bully pulpit to bring issues like education, economic competitiveness, and immigration even more attention than it receives now. Given the dysfunction of Congress, and in particular, the infighting and insanity of the establishment Republicans and Tea Party Republicans, I am very pessimistic about anything getting done between 2014 and 2016, and if Khanna is elected, will probably find working across the aisle very, very difficult, if not impossible, much like Obama has found out the hard way.
I’ve attended a few Honda fundraisers, though mostly because I wanted to meet actor and activist George Takei and former ambassador and governor Gary Locke. I don’t live in the 17th District, but in the 18th, and will be voting to re-elect Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, who will have no trouble getting re-elected in a heavily Democratic district (in 2012, Eshoo won with 70% of the vote).
Khanna was very good during the debate, has endorsements from the three major metro newspapers in the region: The San Francisco Chronicle, The San Jose Mercury News, and The Oakland Tribune, but I don’t think he will win in November since Honda is well known, an Asian American icon, and has deep roots in the community as a teacher and politician who overall has served his constituents well (or well enough). I can’t vote for either since I don’t live in the CA-17th (I’m in the 18th). The 17th is pretty lucky to actually have two very good candidates IMHO. I think Honda will win, and Khanna should run again for this district when Honda retires (he’s 73, so who knows how many terms left he’ll want to run for.)
After the debate, both Khanna and Honda had the opportunity to go to the press room for reporters to ask additional questions. Honda declined to join and had a spokesperson represent him (saying that Honda wanted to meet with his supporters – who had been there prior to the debate start) while Khanna did make the time to take questions.
Honda supporters outside of the NBC Bay Area offices prior to the debate.