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CA17: A little more Khanna-Honda post-mortem

My story in today’s editions explores why Ro Khanna’s campaign to unseat Rep. Mike Honda didn’t succeed, but there was more to my interview with Khanna than we had room for in this article.

I sat down with Khanna minutes after he delivered his concession speech Friday night. At that time, Honda led in unofficial returns by 3,658 votes, or 3.66 percentage points. Another 27,853 votes have been tallied in Santa Clara and Alameda counties since then, and as of Monday morning, Honda leads by 4,637 votes, or 3.62 percentage points.

CONGRESSMAN CANDIDATE RO KHANNAFirst, some more math. Khanna had said Friday that he and his consultants had hoped 150,000 to 160,000 votes would be cast in this race; in a district of about 296,000 voters, that would’ve meant turnout of about 51 to 54 percent. As of Monday morning, only about 128,000 ballots have been tallied – a turnout of only about 43 percent – and as Khanna notes in the story, his key constituencies of young voters, independents and Republicans were among the least likely to vote.

In Election Day’s earliest returns – absentee ballots that came in early enough that they’d already been processed by 8 p.m. Tuesday – Honda led by about 7 percentage points, a lead that narrowed later that night and in the following days. Khanna said that indicates Honda did better among earlier voters, while he was far more competitive among those who did their vote-by-mail ballots at the last minute or who voted at the polls on Election Day.

“We’d always said this was a race against time,” he said Friday. “If we’d had a couple more weeks, maybe we would’ve pulled ahead.”

Also, Khanna was more effusive in his praise of his deepest-pocketed supporter than I could fully explain in the story.

I had pressed Khanna about the $857,000 spent by Californians for Innovation, the super PAC formed by his supporters to do independent spending on his behalf; much of that spending came in the campaign’s final month, and about half that money was contributed late enough that the donors’ identities won’t be revealed until December.

I asked whether this had been a double-edged sword for him – the radio ads and mailers kept his name out there after his own campaign had run out of money, but the independent and somewhat shadowy spending might’ve discomfited some supporters who had been proud to back a candidate who shunned PAC and lobbyist donations to his own campaign. Khanna said he was OK with it.

“I was very open to say that if there were supporters who wanted to come to our defense, they should” – and he’s thankful that they did, he said. “I’m glad that there was someone there to set the record straight, I didn’t discourage it… but I think it’s unfortunate that we had to go there.”

The biggest super PAC donors – at $250,000 – were Texas energy hedge fund billionaire John Arnold and his wife. Honda’s late ads noted Arnold had worked at Enron, a company which before its collapse in 2002 had gamed California’s electricity grid to cost the state’s residents billions of dollars in surcharges.

“I do know John Arnold, we had a long conversation about pension reform and his desire for new leadership in the Democratic Party,” Khanna said, noting Arnold has also supported Democrats like outgoing San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis. “The idea that he’s a right-wing kind of person is just false… He and his wife are an incredibly decent couple and I’m very proud of their support. I regret that they were attacked in the campaign, I think they’re good people.”

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CA17: Super PAC backing Khanna has spent $812k

The super PAC that’s spending independently in support of Democratic congressional candidate Ro Khanna’s campaign has reported another $250,000 in spending, this time on radio ads – which means someone has put another big load of money into it.

Unfortunately, while Federal Election Commission rules require disclosure of spending within a day or two, the Californians for Innovation super PAC won’t have to disclose its donors again until after this 17th Congressional District election is in the history books.

Californians for Innovation, formed this summer by Khanna supporters, already had spent about $305,000 by mid-October on direct mail to help Khanna in his bid to unseat Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose.

Several late expenditure reports showed $256,441 in additional spending in the month’s second half – and then, with another report filed late Wednesday night, $250,000 more.

So the running total is now almost $812,000, all but $72,000 of which has been spent in October. As of the middle of the month, the committee had reported raising only $480,000.

Super PACs can take unlimited contributions, and this one’s biggest disclosed donors by far – $250,000 – are Texas energy hedge fund billionaire John Arnold, a former Enron trader, and his wife, Laura. Another $25,000 came from OO Investment LLC; corporate registrations filed in California and Delaware don’t disclose OO’s executives or members, and the lawyer who filed the papers – Myron Sugarman of San Francisco – hasn’t returned calls or emails seeking comment.

Super PACs are forbidden by law from communicating or coordinating activities with the candidates or campaigns they support or oppose. Law said Monday that he, Khanna and the rest of Khanna’s campaign have “no idea” who’s behind OO Investment LLC.

The Working For Us PAC, a union-funded super PAC, spent about $140,000 to send out several mailers on Honda’s behalf before June’s primary election.

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CA17: Honda launches attack ad against Khanna

Rep. Mike Honda rolled out a new television ad Monday attacking Democratic challenger Ro Khanna for having right-wing billionaires support his campaign, for favoring tax breaks for the rich and companies that offshore jobs, and for not being committed to protecting Social Security.

But Khanna’s campaign says Honda, D-San Jose, is making up many of the ad’s charges.

Honda’s campaign says this six-figure ad buy comes after Khanna’s campaign has been on the attack for weeks, including a recent mailer attacking Honda by calling him a “liberal Democrat.”

“After losing the primary by 20 points, Khanna’s entire campaign has been about attacking Congressman Honda, and today we’re hitting back,” Honda campaign manager Doug Greven said in a news release. “Voters need to know that Khanna is more concerned with representing his wealthy right-wing donors than the people who are working hard in this district to get by.”

Khanna spokesman Tyler Law said the ad is flat-out wrong.

“It’s a shame that after 14 lackluster years in office, Congressman Honda is resorting to false attacks and a ‘guilt-by-association’ strategy that ignores the facts,” Law said. “More than ever, this race is a clear choice between an old school politician with one of the poorest records in Congress and a new leader with a clear vision for creating good-paying jobs, fostering innovation, and preparing our children for success in life.”

Khanna sent an email to his supporters Monday morning calling the ad “full of lies” and saying that while his campaign does “not have the money for television, we will respond in the press, in mailers and on the ground.” Reports filed last week with the Federal Election Commission showed Honda still had close to $1 million banked for his campaign as of Sept. 30 while Khanna’s campaign was running dangerously low – a tremendous reversal of fortune, given that Khanna had vastly more money for the campaign’s first year but spent most of it before June’s primary.

“My hope is that voters in Silicon Valley will see through this kind of politics,” Khanna wrote. “My hope is they will choose intellectually honest positions over distortion.”

Let’s examine the ad point by point, after the jump…
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Joe Dunn will be State Bar’s executive director

Former state Sen. Joe Dunn, D-Santa Ana, will be the new executive director of the State Bar of California, State Bar President Howard Miller announced today.

Joe DunnDunn, 52, served in the state Senate from 1998 to 2006, including a stint as the Senate Judiciary Committee’s chair; he led the Legislature’s investigation into Enron’s involvement in the 2000-2001 energy crisis. Scared out of the 2006 Democratic primary for state attorney general by Jerry Brown, Dunn instead ran in the 2006 Democratic primary for state Controller, but lost to John Chiang. The Secretary of State’s campaign finance database shows Dunn still has one political committee open, with $105,333.97 at the end of last year.

From 2006 to 2009, he was CEO/executive director of the California Medical Association, a position from which he resigned because he said the demands of traveling between Orange County and Sacramento were too heavy on his family life. Earlier this year, he formed a law/lobbying practice with former state Sen. Martha Escutia, D-Whittier, and veteran Democratic strategist Richie Ross; The Senators (Ret.) Firm LLP‘s lobbying clients have included the California Coalition of Option Schools and McGraw-Hill Education.

“I am honored to have been offered this position. My life commitment has been to the legal profession, and there is no better way I can think of to show that commitment than to assist the Board of Governors with its work at the State Bar,” Dunn said in a State Bar news release.

Judy Johnson, the State Bar’s executive director for more than a decade, resigned in January but has stayed on as a consultant through February 2011; Dunn will take over sometime after the State Bar’s annual convention later this week in Monterey.

State Bar President-elect Bill Hebert said he was “extremely pleased that after a thorough search that Senator Dunn, with his extensive background and experience, has been named to the position. He will be a major aid to the Board of Governors as we advance the mission of the Bar and seek to meet the challenges facing the legal profession.”

The State Bar, created by the state legislature in 1927, is a public corporation within the judicial branch of government, serving as an arm of the California Supreme Court. Membership is mandatory for all attorneys licensed to practice law in the state; with more than 226,000 members, it’s by far the nation’s largest state bar.