CA17: Honda and Khanna take their victory laps

Rep. Mike Honda’s 22-percentage-point lead over insurgent Democratic challenger Ro Khanna in Tuesday’s 17th Congressional District primary has both the party’s establishment and its liberal wing crowing with delight.

honda.jpgDemocratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel issued a statement praising Honda, D-San Jose, on his “decisive win” and calling him “the ideal leader for the Bay Area” with “an unparalleled record of delivering results in education, innovation and helping to rebuild the middle class.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the liberal grassroots group Democracy for America, used sharper terms, calling Honda “the true grassroots progressive in the race, over the billionaire-backed, Republican-lite Ro Khanna.”

“With the registered Republicans now out of the race, Democracy for America members look forward to continuing to make clear that Mike Honda is the only progressive Democrat in this race — a job we expect to be made considerably easier as Republican-lite Ro Khanna inevitably begins making the same right-wing pitch to voters that he used to ‘win’ the support of fringe-right millionaires and billionaires,” Chamberlain said.

And the Progressive Change Campaign Committee counts Honda among victories in what it “is calling ‘Progressive Super Tuesday’ because ‘Elizabeth Warren wing’ Democrats across the country won their races against Corporate Democrats.”

As I wrote Tuesday night, Honda’s victory margin gives him some room to breathe as he heads for his November showdown with Khanna. They’re about equally matched in money, and Honda – who already has the name recognition that comes with being a seven-term incumbent – has not yet even started advertising on television.

But Khanna – who came out swinging Tuesday night by challenging Honda to swear off negative campaigning, shun independent expenditures and meet for five debates – says he has five months to play catch-up. His campaign issued a lengthy memo Wednesday from consultant Jeremy Bird – who was national field director of President Obama’s re-election camoaign – explaining why Khanna is “in a strong position” looking ahead to November.

Ro KhannaThe memo notes that Khanna has moved from 5 percent in the polls to his 27 percent showing on Tuesday, even with three other candidates in the field, while Honda dropped from 57 percent in his own poll to 49 percent Tuesday. “And any time an incumbent falls below 50% – especially one who started with as strong name ID as Honda – that suggests a highly vulnerable candidate,” Bird wrote.

November will offer a larger, more moderate electorate, the memo says.

“Honda’s best performing group (strong partisan Democrats) is already accounted for in the primary vote,” Bird wrote. “There is no more natural constituency for Rep. Honda to reach out to. Rep. Honda’s worst performing groups, independent Democrats, DTS and Republican voters, make up the vast majority of the up-for-grabs vote pool. He has to win votes from groups outside his core appeal. This will be a formidable challenge because his vote share over the primary shrunk, especially with these groups, while Ro Khanna’s grew.”

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.

  • Marga

    This race is about to get interesting.

    I think we can conclude from the overall results of the June election that even the few voters that did vote were not paying much attention. Anecdotally, I don’t think I’ve ever had so many last minute calls from friends asking me who to vote for. When voters don’t pay attention, they tend to vote for incumbents. They may still do so in November.

    The problem that I have always seen with Khanna is that he is not the sort of candidate who is immediately appealing. People need to hear him speak and assess his sincerity and intelligence by themselves, before they can fall under his spell. That’s a difficult thing when you have a large voting population. I always figured that his end game was to prepare the field for a victory in 2016.

    I do think that a victory this November is possible, but probably not without knocking down Honda first: giving voters a reason to reject the incumbent. As much as I like Khanna myself, I know I needed that reason to support him wholeheartedly.

    But Khanna is, perhaps admiringly, reluctant to go after Honda. I think this is both because he respects (like I do) what Mike Honda has stood for his whole life, and because he wants to be recognized as the better man/candidate. He doesn’t want to defeat a weakened Honda, he wants to defeat Honda in his prime. That, I don’t think he can do in just five months.
    But then, there is the question of what is the responsibility that writers, commentators and even editorial boards owe to the public – in particular if Honda goes back on his word and refuses to have a meaningful debate with Khanna, as I suspect he will.

  • Elwood

    Honda beat the corporate candidate 2 to 1.

    No wonder the corporate candidate wants nine debates and seven silly pledges or whatever the count may be.

  • RRSenileColumnist

    Khanna Ro beat a Honda? It will be fun to watch.

  • RRSenileColumnist

    Marga, why are you posts so dang wordy?

  • Marga

    To paraphrase Pascal, I like the time (and skill) to make them short.

  • Elwood

    Who is this see more?

    Is he your assistant?

  • RRSenileColumnist

    It’s another Spare the Air day. Thus, we implore HondaRo to postpone debates in the interest of clean air.