Khanna said the San Jose Mercury News, the San Francisco Chronicle, KPIX 5, and NBC Bay Area had all expressed interest in hosting primary debates, while other non-local outlets like The Huffington Post and TechCrunch might be interested, too.
“The modest debate schedule I’m proposing will allow voters to make a fully informed decision about who will best represent them in Congress,” Khanna said in a news release. “Voters are tired of old-style politics and campaigns that consist of little more than sloganeering and demagoguery. With the challenges our nation faces today, the voters deserve better.”
Khanna, a former Obama administration official from Fremont, went on to say that 17th District residents will benefit from a public airing of the issues. “It’s one way to start restoring public confidence in Congress, which is at an all-time low.”
The current House calendar offers plenty of opportunities for Honda, D-San Jose, to return to the district for debates, Khanna said, but he also offered to debate on weekends if necessary. He said he’ll designate a campaign staffer to reach out to Honda’s campaign and local media to start talks on dates, venues and formats.
“Congressman Honda is focused on his work improving the lives of his constituents,” Honda campaign spokesman Vivek Kembaiyan said via e-mail late Tuesday, after being asked whether Honda is open to debates. “Given how early it is (the full field of candidates isn’t set yet, and probably won’t be for a couple more months), the campaign has not made any decisions yet regarding debates.”
Debates – or the lack thereof – have played varying roles in a few recent campaigns.
It was at a 2012 pre-primary debate hosted by the League of Women Voters in Hayward where Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, made an unsubstantiated accusation of bribery against fellow Democrat Eric Swalwell – suddenly giving Swalwell a talking point and visibility he’d previously lacked. Further gaffes by Stark followed, and Swalwell eventually ended Stark’s 40-year house tenure.
That same year, Republican challenger Elizabeth Emken made much of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s refusal to meet her for any debates at all, accusing the incumbent of arrogance.
But Emken was running her campaign on a shoestring. “My opponent has virtually no campaign; her whole campaign has essentially been sticking her finger in my eye in one way or another,” Feinstein, D-Calif., said at the time, adding she wouldn’t give Emken’s “right-wing Republican views” a megaphone if Emken couldn’t find one herself. Most Californians apparently didn’t care – Feinstein won with 62.5 percent of the vote.
In this case, Khanna’s campaign had almost three and a half times as much money in the bank as Honda’s as of Sept. 30, so he can buy his own megaphone to capitalize on the public’s frustrations with Congress – including either a “he-won’t-debate-me” taunt, or whatever fodder a debate might yield.