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CA17: Singh & Khanna campaigns step it up

Watch for Republican candidate Vanila Singh to step up her 17th Congressional District campaign significantly in the next few weeks.

Vanila SinghI had coffee today with Matt Shupe, who took over as Singh’s campaign manager at the start of this month. Shupe formerly was executive director of the San Francisco Republican Party, working for county chairwoman and state GOP Vice Chairwoman Harmeet Dhillon; before that, he served three months as deputy manager of Andy Vidak’s successful state Senate campaign in early 2013 and has run or helped build several other campaigns.

Shupe, 29, brings a network of contacts from those campaigns and from his leadership roles with the California College Republicans that he says “can rapidly accelerate the growth of an operation,” he said. That’s what he intends to do for Singh – a speedy ramp-up using volunteers from all over the Bay Area to bolster Singh’s bid to unseat Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose.

It’s not as if they have much else to do. Shupe said Bay Area Republicans really only have two competitive races – this one, and Dublin attorney Catharine Baker’s run against three Democrats in the 16th Assembly District. “So I’m able to suck up a lot of the talent,” he said, adding his volunteer roster keeps growing. “Right now I’d say our list is in the hundreds.”

Meanwhile, Democratic challenger Ro Khanna and his staff and volunteers will celebrate the opening of his campaign’s Cupertino field office from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesday at 20111 Stevens Creek Blvd., Suite 130. The campaign’s headquarters is in Fremont, but this office will be a hub for grassroots efforts in Cupertino and Sunnyvale. Cupertino council members Orrin Mahoney and Rod Sinks are expected to attend the event.

Khanna’s staff is touting his social media progress – now at 10,398 Facebook likes and 1,778 Twitter followers, compared to Honda’s 4,182 likes and 785 Twitter followers or Singh’s 1,064 Facebook likes and 280 Twitter followers. But social media only go so far, and Khanna’s campaign is maintaining a full schedule of neighborhood canvasses and phone banks.

Singh is holding a happy hour from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. this Thursday, April 24 at C&J’s Sports Bar, 1550 Lafayette St. in Santa Clara, and then will hold a campaign kickoff at 10 a.m. Saturday at her headquarters, 1313 N. Milpitas Blvd. Suite 215, in Milpitas.

Shupe said he has seen a hunger from the 17th District’s GOP voters: “You can tell that Republicans in this district have never really been campaigned to in many years.”

And Singh has the resources to sate that hunger, he said, having raised more money than any other Republican candidate in the Bay Area; she had about $300,000 cash on hand at the start of this month.

“She’s definitely a pragmatic, reasonable, non-Tea-Party candidate, so we believe she can connect uniquely to the district,” he said. “This is voter contact, get-out-the-vote campaigning from here to Election Day.”

Shupe acknowledged it’s an uphill battle in a district that’s registered 44 percent Democrat, 19 percent Republican and 32 percent nonpartisan. But a poll conducted in February by Honda’s liberal allies had found Singh – who had entered the race at the end of December – already a few points ahead of Khanna, almost certainly by dint of being the only Republican in the field at the time.

That’s a strong base on which to build, Shupe said, and while the goal is to win, the journey might be as important as the destination if Singh can make significant inroads within the South Bay Indo-American community of which she’s a lifelong member. “It’s definitely party building,” Shupe said.

Singh so far has refused to take part in any candidate forums or debates. Shupe said she won’t participate in any event that doesn’t include Honda or that does include the other Republican candidate, Joel Vanlandingham, whom she believes was recruited into the race by Khanna supporters in order to split the GOP vote. “He’s really degrading the election, I think.”

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.