Not running in 2012, but raising funds like mad

Just because they’re not throwing their hats into the ring in 2012 doesn’t mean there aren’t a slew of people working now to try to succeed Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont.

We’ve known for a while that state Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, had formed a campaign committee, but I was told week before last that she won’t challenge the 20-term incumbent in 2012, preferring to just fundraise and network in this cycle. Indeed, I now see she’s planning an Oktoberfest fundraiser Thursday, Oct. 27 at San Leandro’s Englander Pub “to benefit Ellen’s run for Congress in 2014 for the new 15th Congressional District.” She’s asking from $100 to $5,000 a head.

Then there’s Ro Khanna, 35, a lawyer at Silicon Valley mainstay Wilson Sonsini who until recently was a deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Commerce Department overseeing 108 U.S. Export Assistance Centers in 47 states. Khanna challenged the late Rep. Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo, in the 2004 primary when he lived on the Peninsula but has building ties to prominent Democrats ever since. Now he’s in Fremont, and when we chatted over coffee a few months ago, he said he was interested in Stark’s seat but supports Stark and would never challenge him.

Today, I see noted Silicon Valley venture capitalist Vinod Khosla and his wife will host a fundraiser for Khanna – they’re asking $1,000 or $2,500 a head – at their Portola Valley home on Oct. 18, with Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, and Mike Honda, D-San Jose, scheduled to attend. An e-mail announcing the fundraiser says former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norm Mineta; hotel and realty mogul Penny Pritzker; Symantec Chairman John Thompson; Francisco Partners cofounder Sandy Robertson; venture capitalist Bill Draper; Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers managing partner Ted Schlein; KPCB partner Brook Byers; salesforce.com Chairman and CEO Marc Benioff; Esprit founder Susie Tompkins Buell; and Hummer Winblad Venture Partners managing director Mark Gorenberg are Khanna supporters, too.

That’s a lot of money, right there: a couple of billionaires in the bunch, and the crème de la crème of Bay Area/Silicon Valley Democratic fundraising. In fact, it’s so much so that I wondered whether Khanna had a change of heart about waiting for Stark to retire. But he told me today he’s still “waiting and supporting him.”

“I admire him and will mobilize Dems as discussed and prepare for future,” Khanna said in an e-mail. “But unlike others I will be supporting him until he signals the seat is open in the future.”

The only person who has declared candidacy so far to take on Stark in 2012 is Alameda County prosecutor and Dublin Councilman Eric Swalwell, 30.

“The United States Congress does not take reservations,” Swalwell said today of the Corbett and Khanna fundraisers. “It’s walk-ins only. We take our election cycles one at a time. There’s an election in 2012 and we can’t afford to wait for a new direction. So I’m acting now.”

UPDATE @ 10:18 A.M. TUESDAY: Per the discussion of his residency in the comments below, Khanna e-mailed me late last night to say that although his voter registration shows him living within the new 17th Congressional District, that’s actually the residence he maintained here while in DC working for the Commerce Department. Since returning, he has leased a residence in Fremont’s Ardenwood area, within the new 15th Congressional District, he said: “I have not had a chance to change my voter registration, but will do that this week.”

He also mentioned that his campaign has a grassroots event planned for Nov. 19 in Hayward. “So, just wanted to let you know that we do have local community involvement too,” he wrote, not just the deep-pocketed donors.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Jon

    Does Ellen Corbett realize San Leandro, where she lives, is not in the district. Just another career politician. And fitting that she doesn’t support a business in the district for her first fundraiser.

  • Josh Richman

    Certainly true: Ellen Corbett’s home falls within the new 13th Congressional District, where Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, will be seeking re-election. However, the 10th State Senate District she has represented since 2006 started with San Leandro and extended south and east to include areas that are partly or completely in the new 15th Congressional District – San Lorenzo, Hayward, Union City, Fremont and Pleasanton. So I imagine she’d say she has been representing a lot of those voters for years, and of course, members of Congress aren’t required to live in the districts they represent, just within the state.

    You’re right that it might’ve been politically savvier to hold this fundraiser somewhere within the district she’s aspiring to represent. Note, however, that Khanna’s fundraiser won’t be in the district, either.

  • Kylee

    Does Ro Khanna live in the district, either? Who are these people? This guy reminds me of David Harmer, the tea party republican who ran against McNerney — Harmer also ran against Garimendi and someone in Utah. Where won’t Khanna run? Great, a bunch of billionaires who got our country in this financial mess now want their hand-picked guy to drive us deeper into the ground?

  • John W

    Does anybody even come close to Tom McClintock in terms of winning a Congressional seat so far from his home?

  • Derek H

    Ellen Corbett is definitely acting like she believes she is “next in line.” Seems to me that’s the way Republicans decide their nominees, not Democrats.

  • Truthclubber

    Given the massive 2014 foodfight that is emerging for “Stark raving Pete’s” seat, I have the perfect campaign theme song for Mr. Swalwell:


    Listen very carefully to the lyrics — I picked it especially for the occasion.

    Hey, Eric — how’s that $10K fundraising goal by 9/30/11 workin’ out for ya?

  • Josh Richman

    re:#3 — Khanna as of July was registered to vote in Fremont at an address that falls within Stark’s old 13th Congressional District, but after reapportionment, falls within the new 17th Congressional District where Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, will seek re-election to a seventh term.

  • RR, Senile Columnist

    For Pete’s sake! Starker’s reluctance to to call it quits is really irritating ambitious politicos.