Obama staying neutral in Honda vs. Khanna rematch

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When Mike Honda and Ro Khanna squared off two years ago to represent Silicon Valley in Congress, Honda’s seemingly interminable list of big name Democratic Party backers included none other than Khanna’s former boss, President Barack Obama.

But not this time around. The president is not endorsing in this year’s rematch, the Democratic National Committee said Thursday, handing Honda another setback as he tries to defend his seat against a better-funded challenger while also confronting an ethics probe.

“I think it might be a telling sign as to where some national Democrats think the race is going,” said Kyle Kondik, a University of Virginia congressional elections expert. “As a Democratic incumbent you’d love to have the backing of the incumbent Democratic president. This is something that the Honda folks would have to explain to their donors.”

Honda spokesman Mike Beckendorf noted that his candidate still has the backing of his congressional colleagues and is poised to get the state Democratic Party endorsement this weekend.

“Congressman Honda has great admiration and respect for President Obama and his service to our country, but we were not expecting the president to get involved in this race,” he said.

Khanna’s mouthpiece, Hari Sevugan, questioned whether the President is staying neutral this time around because of the continuing House Ethics Committee probe into whether Honda blurred the line between his campaign operation and congressional office.

“It begs the question: If President Obama has lost confidence in Mike Honda, why should voters have any confidence in him?” Sevugan said.

So does it matter? Maybe, said  San Jose State professor emeritus Larry Gerston:

I don’t know that substantively it means a lot. But when we’re talking about a close race these symbolic considerations can become important.