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.

  • Elwood

    Ah, the dimmiecrats eating their young!

    Such a fun thing to watch!

  • JohnW

    “…eating their young.”

    You mean like in the GOP, where conservatives keep getting knocked off by nut-cases?

    Open primary/top two is great. They should try it in the red states.

  • Josh Richman

    Aren’t the Dems actually “eating their old?” (h/t to Soylent Green)

  • JohnW

    Good one!

    In California, old Democrats never die; they just fade away.

  • moderate voter

    I do think Rho Khanna works as a possible candidate in the 17th district, should Honda retire two years from now, which seems likely. Khanna is an expert on the high tech sector and an expert on the global economy as well. This well known, Khanna is respected by everybody. Recently I’ve heard Khanna is working on a book on how to put US workers back to work – he has a lot of ideas on this critical topic, concrete ideas, not just campaign rhetoric. These type of ideas are in short supply in Washington DC, let me tell you. My complaint with some of these older Representatives in the Nor Cal Democratic delegation is they don’t seem to have a clue how to stop the drain on US jobs. Some seem to have a 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s mentality, but the things that worked then are not working now – voters can see that, I mean look at all these people out of work, the boarded up homes, the boarded up businesses. Khanna – I think – may be the kind candidate who has the brainpower to come up with solutions to stop this drain of jobs. As a blue collar worker of 40 years the thing that I care about the most is jobs, it’s all about jobs – good paying jobs, nothing works right if you are out of work or under-employed.

  • Alcoahead

    @5 —

    “Khanna is respected by everybody” and “Khanna – I think – may be the kind candidate who has the brainpower to come up with solutions to stop this drain of jobs” — this from someone (Moderate Voter, indeed!) who preferred a person for Congress who had less than a full term on a “podunk” city council and is now unable to get assigned to a committee that benefits a majority of his district.

    And we wonder why we “get the government we deserve”… 😉

  • RR senile columnist

    Think of all the jobs this esteemed Silicon Valley lawyer could dream up! Wow, I’m already drooling!

  • moderate voter

    #6 Ideally every longtime incumbent member of Congress – like Mike Honda – ought to have talented well financed challenger – like Rho Khanna – breathing down his neck, this helps to get the incumbent to work harder. If Honda doesn’t deliver, he will be gone, that happened to Stark, and even to Howard Berman down in LA. These “safe seats” we had for years, they led to lazy Representatives, often. Voters have changed the rules now, we want competitive races for Congress. No longer can entrenched incumbents coast, voters want the workload of our local Representatives to expand, we got big problems facing us, no question. I am excited to see a lot of new faces in the Democratic Congressional in delegation. You’ve got Ami Bera, a health care expert with national reputation taking over for Lungren – who didn’t know zip about health care, he brings energy and expertise, badly needed as the implementation of Obama Care looms in 2014. I’ve been reading these horror stories about veterans waiting years for health care and pensions, and now you have this new frosh Congressman on the Veterans committee – Raul Ruiz, got to think he will shake things up a little, maybe get to the bottom on why vets are waiting so long to get benefits. The fact that this is happening indicates maybe you’ve got some veteran members asleep on the job, so I think these new members can make immediate impact. They all ran on a change platform, I think you will get some change.
    My guess is Mike Honda – faced with a mutli-million dollar challenge from Khanna – at the age of 72 – may opt out, possibly take job in OBama Adminstration, or even retire. Does he want to put in 60 hour work weeks at his age? Voters are demanding results from our local house members, which means jobs, jobs right now. No more excuses, or coasting on your reputation, the rules have changed, just ask Stark and Berman, thanks to California voters.

  • San Jose Voter

    Congressman Honda has a track record for delivering for his constituents, one which will continue to be appreciated by them for years to come. Based on his seniority, Congressman Honda has earned plum positions on key committees and parlayed those into jobs for our district and, more broadly, the entire Bay Area. The fruit of Congressman Honda’s labor includes the extension of BART into Silicon Valley and the creation of a satellite U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in San Jose. These job-creating projects don’t just happen — they are the products of hard work by a dedicated public servant who has cultivated relationships in the community, across the aisle, and with the executive branch.

  • South Bay Maverick

    San Jose Voter Says – How effective is Honda? Couldnt even hold on to his coveted role on the the DNC.

  • DanvilleDemocrat

    Glad to see Eric Swalwell finally receiving the respect he deserves.