Debate, as in Singular, not Plural, says Honda’s Campaign

Rep. Mike Honda, Ro Khanna and Joel
Vanlandingham at a May 3 forum in Fremont.

CONGRESS | DISTRICT 17 | Ro Khanna reiterated his desire for five monthly debates from now to the November Election in a letter Tuesday to Rep. Mike Honda. However, there may only be one debate, if Honda’s campaign has its way.

“Congressman Honda has committed to participating in a debate before the general election, and we have not finalized the details yet,” said Vivek Kembaiyan, the Honda campaign’s communication director.

Following the lone candidate’s forum on May 3–exactly one month from the June primary–Honda told reporters he would debate Khanna sometime in the fall. The same night, Khanna reacted to the news by suggesting five debates on specific issues confronting the 17th Congressional District. Honda’s acquiescence that night ended months of prodding by Khanna and some local newspapers who also called for debates between the two front runners.

But, during an endorsement meeting last month with the San Francisco Chronicle, when pressed on the issue of debates, Honda said, “At this time I will commit to some debates.”

In the letter, Khanna’s campaign, though, voiced displeasure toward Honda over two prior attempts to negotiate logistics for the debates. “While I am encouraged that you have publicly committed to participate in debates in the general election, I am concerned that your team has not yet responded to our repeated efforts to arrange these important meetings,” wrote Khanna. “Ambassador Jeff Bleich from my campaign team has reached out to your campaign manager twice already but has received no response.”

In the weeks preceding the June primary, which Honda won by a 21-point margin, the campaign took on a distinctive negative tone, highlighted by personal attacks and one controversial mailer sent by an independent expenditure committee in favor of Honda. Though not connected to Honda’s campaign, the mailer insinuated an unflattering Indian stereotype against Khanna, who is of Indian American descent.

“It’s clear that debates are needed to make certain that misinformation and false attacks don’t take over the general election in the same way that they did in the final weeks of the primary,” wrote Khanna. “Voters deserve better.”

NOTE: Additions were made to this article regarding Honda’s comments in May to the Chronicle.