Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
July 31, 2014

California: Khanna Will Challenge Fellow Democrat Honda in Silicon Valley

Ro Khanna made his candidacy official Tuesday morning, setting up a highly competitive Democratic battle in California’s Silicon Valley.

The former Obama administration official is challenging six-term Democratic Rep. Michael M. Honda, who has spent the past few months rolling out big-name party endorsements and polling to discourage Khanna, 36, from running.

“I’m running for Congress because I believe Silicon Valley’s innovation and energy can cut through old-style Washington politics,” Khanna said in a video posted to his campaign website.

Honda, 71, was endorsed in January by President Barack Obama, but many of Obama’s top campaign operatives are now working for Khanna.

Among many others, Obama’s national field director, Jeremy Bird, will serve as Khanna’s general consultant; Leah Cowan, an Obama regional field director in North Carolina last year, is serving as campaign manager; and top Obama media strategists Larry Grisolano and John Kupper are serving as consultants. The San Jose Mercury News reported the news Tuesday morning.

In a brief phone interview Tuesday, Khanna confirmed the news to CQ Roll Call, saying, “We’ve got a good team.”

In response to the news, Honda said in a statement that the “beauty of a free country is that anyone has the right to run.”

“I’ve taken every one of my campaigns seriously and this will be no different,” Honda added. “I’m grateful for the early support I’ve received, from President Obama to local leaders across the district, and I’m looking forward to our strongest campaign yet in 2014.”

Honda has also been endorsed by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and California’s two Democratic senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. The internal poll that Honda released last month found Khanna well behind, not surprising given his lack of name recognition.

But the attorney and professor raised more than $1 million last cycle in anticipation of a 2014 congressional bid, though it appeared then that Khanna was eyeing former Democratic Rep. Pete Stark’s seat. However, the state’s new top-two primary allowed fellow Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell to defeat Stark in November.

There are two key dynamics to the 17th District race: the dominant tech industry and that two Asian-Americans are running in a district for which half the population is Asian. The Honda poll released last month highlighted Honda’s lead among both blocs, and it broke down the Asian population into South Asians and South/Southeast Asians.

The Tuesday morning announcement by Khanna, who served as a deputy assistant Commerce secretary before returning to Fremont, Calif., was aimed directly at both.

“People come here from around the world to put their dreams into action — that’s the promise of America, and it’s why my parents came here from Asia,” Khanna said in a statement. “But Silicon Valley is succeeding in spite of Washington — not because of it.”

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