|Rep. Mike Honda and Ro Khanna|
MEET THE CANDIDATES Rep. Mike Honda has served the South Bay since 2000. During his seven terms Honda is viewed as one of the most liberal members of Congress, if not, the most. Widely known as warm and fun-loving, the karaoke congressman has dutifully served as a solid member of the California caucus who brought back funding for the BART extension to San Jose. His opponent, Ro Khanna—also a Democrat—concedes his opponent has a high likability factor, but believes the tech-heavy district needs a stronger, younger voice in Washington. Silicon Valley agrees and lavishly funded Khanna 2.0 to the tune of $4.5 million during this election cycle. Khanna has touted his federal experience as an Obama appointee to the U.S. Department of Commerce and his 2013 book on the rise of manufacturing.
WHAT’S THE BEEF The initial conceit in this race followed parallel to Rep. Eric Swalwell’s upset of Pete Stark in the nearby 15th District. Stark was entrenched, far too liberal for the district and to put it bluntly, too old. The strategy has been employed here by Khanna, but may not be gaining much traction since the underlining argument against Stark contained numerous high-profile public outbursts. However, Honda is as friendly as a Care Bear and it remains to be seen whether the incumbent could be upended without evidence of poor job performance or misdeeds. Following a 20-point drubbing in the June Primary, Khanna took a noticeable turn to the right to make up the large, but attainable spread. Khanna’s advantage is believed to be his possession of the campaign technologies and know-how from President Obama’s re-election team. Its power remains to be seen, although, a poll last month showed Khanna trailing the incumbent by just two points. Honda’s campaign admits the race is tight and even a robocall last week by First Lady Michelle Obama notes the race is close.
PAST RESULTS 2014 June Primary: 1. Mike Honda (D) 43,607 (48.2%) 2. Ro Khanna (D) 25,384 (28.0%) 3. Vanila Singh (R) 15,359 (17.0%) 4. Joel VanLandingham (R) 6,154 (6.8%). 2012 General Election: 1. Mike Honda (D) 159,392 (73.5%) 2. Evelyn Li (R) 57,336 (26.5%).
CAMPAIGN FINANCE (through Oct. 15): Honda $420,101 cash on hand; $2,941,656 total raised this cycle. Khanna $147,712 cash on hand; $4,489,164 raised this cycle.
OUTLOOK The top headline early in this race was Khanna’s record-breaking fundraising numbers. This dynamic has vanished. During the fall race, it is Honda who has all the money to spend and he’s using his advantage to flood the airwaves with an unflattering hit piece that portrays Khanna as beholden to special interests. A slew of early biographical ads from Khanna’s campaign got him to this point, but his campaign has few bullets left to defend itself against Honda’s attacks. Indeed, the race will be close, but for Khanna to score the upset he will have to have sold voters in the 17th District a product they hadn’t realized they actually craved. That’s a hard sell when the incumbent is seen to have done nothing to deserve losing his seat. In fact, the most interesting aspect of Tuesday’s result rests in this scenario: If Khanna is defeated, how close is close enough to recalibrate the entire race for 2016? Say, Khanna falls within two percent of Honda? Such a small margin suggests two major decisions in the next year: Does Khanna regroup and mount a campaign for a rematch in two year’s time and, similarly, does Honda realize time is not on his side and he begins contemplating retirement over the next year? The lessons from Stark are clear here. It’s better for an entrenched congressman to leave on his own accord rather than suffer a nasty fall from grace.
PREDICTION 1. Honda 2. Khanna