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Which Bay Area House seat will Ro Khanna seek?

My esteemed colleague Carla Marinucci of the San Francisco Chronicle has just posted a blog item about Ro Khanna moving toward a run in the 17th Congressional District, now represented by Mike Honda, rather than the 15th District, now represented by Eric Swalwell.

Ro KhannaKhanna, you’ll recall, is the former Obama Administration Commerce Department official who raised an eye-popping $1.2 million in the last quarter of 2011, but chose not to challenge Rep. Pete Stark in 2012. Swalwell did, and now he’s Congressman Swalwell while Khanna is cooling his heels at Silicon Valley law powerhouse Wilson Sonsini and deciding on his next move.

Some had assumed Khanna, 36, of Fremont, would mount a 2014 challenge to the freshman Swalwell, 32, of Dublin, but it’s no secret that Khanna’s congressional campaign committee’s statement of organization specified neither the year in which he would run nor the district.

I’d heard the same rumors as Carla, and so this was among the topics I raised while having coffee with Khanna this morning at Suju’s on Thornton Avenue in Fremont, and he’s still playing it cagey – all he would say is that he’s considering all his options.

From where I sit, looking to Honda’s seat instead of Swalwell’s might make a lot of sense for Khanna. The 17th District is much more the heart of Silicon Valley than the 15th District, and Khanna’s expertise is in manufacturing, entrepreneurialism and innovation – hence his recent book on those topics.

Also, the 17th District is the continental United States’ first majority-Asian-American district, and the source of much of the money that Khanna raised in that explosive final quarter of 2011. (In fact, Honda lent his name to one of the bigger fundraisers Khanna had that season, a few years after Khanna had donated $1,000 to Honda’s 2008 campaign.)

There are a few ways this could go. Honda’s interest in an Education Department post during Obama’s first term was no secret, and it’s not beyond the pale that he could be interested in an Obama Administration post now – if not in education, than maybe the Peace Corps (of which Honda is a proud alumnus) or something that utilizes all the experience Honda, 71, has accrued in advocating for minority political action and civil rights (the EEOC?)

Or, Honda could seek an eighth House term in 2014 and Khanna could run against him. California’s top-two primary and that district’s voter registration ratio (44.4 percent Democrat, 19.1 percent Republican, 31.7 percent no-party-preference) make it likely they’d prevail in the primary and face each other in November.

Khanna could make a much stronger play for the district’s nonpartisan and Republican voters than Honda can, as Swalwell did against Stark. But I don’t think this would look much like the Stark-Swalwell smackdown of 2012, which went very negative; though Stark and Honda both are arch-liberals beloved by labor, Honda’s by most accounts is a more likeable personality and going negative on him might be counterproductive.

Still, Khanna could make a case that Honda – although a good and praise-worthy liberal Democrat – hasn’t been as effective in representing the young, tech, forward-looking voters and innovative business interests of Silicon Valley as Khanna could. It would be interesting to see whether Khanna can fire up his fundraising again in a meaningful way; what campaign consultants he can attract; and what endorsements he gets, particularly from local officials and from other members of Congress.

If Khanna does run in the 17th District, Swalwell heaves a huge sigh of relief. He’ll still probably face a challenge from fellow Democrat Ellen Corbett, who’ll be term-limited out of the state Senate in 2014; she opened a campaign committee last year too, and with fundraising not nearly so robust as Khanna’s, she too chose not to challenge Stark. “I would be honored to serve in Congress, but it’s too early to discuss 2014,” she told me in November.

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.