Rep. Mike Honda’s campaign has accepted an invitation to debate his challenger, fellow Democrat Ro Khanna, but the details are still in flux, the campaigns and a debate organizer said Monday.
The Huffington Post and San Jose State University are working together to host the event – that much we know.
Honda campaign spokesman Vivek Kembaiyan said Monday that his team accepted a proposal that the hour-long debate would be held on Tuesday, Oct. 14 or Thursday, Oct. 16. The format, Kembaiyan said, is a single moderator plus a panel consisting of Bay Area journalists and SJSU faculty, with questions selected by the Huffington Post but not provided to either candidate ahead of time. After a coin-toss determines the order of speakers, there will be no opening statements; instead, they’ll get right to two-minute responses with 90-second rebuttals and, at the panelists’ discretion, one-minute discussion extensions. Each candidate will finish with a two-minute closing statement.
A leak of some of this information on Friday caught Khanna’s campaign unawares, drawing anger that the debate (singular, they note, after Honda agreed earlier this year to “debates,” plural) wouldn’t happen until well after vote-by-mail ballots go out on Oct. 6.
“The Honda campaign apparently felt it would be acceptable to hold a debate that a large portion of voters wouldn’t get to see before they cast their ballots,” campaign spokesman Tyler Law said in a statement issued Monday. “Why doesn’t Congressman Honda want his constituents to see a debate?”
Khanna had tweeted to HuffPo Washington Bureau Chief Ryan Grim on Friday that he’s “happy to participate. But be honest and have it before absentee drops instead of enabling Honda games.” Grim replied, “We can work with that. Will get back to you with a date before ballots drop;” he later tweeted that it’s “a reasonable request, to be sure.”
Kembaiyan wouldn’t say Monday whether Honda will accept an earlier date, reiterating that Oct. 14 or 16 “was the proposal we got and which we accepted. We hope that works out.”
But Grim said Monday that “it’s still being worked out, it’s very early in the process” and that Friday’s leak “left the impression that something was finalized” when in fact it’s not.
In other 17th Congressional District news, the Berryessa-North San Jose Democratic Club – the only local Democratic club to have endorsed Khanna, back in February – voted 33-12 last Thursday to switch its endorsement to Honda. Club president Tim Orozco couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Monday.
Club member John Comiskey, as quoted in a Honda campaign news release, said the club changed its endorsement because Khanna since the primary “has shown his true conservative colors” with endorsements from Republican former Rep. Ernie Konnyu and the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce. “The vote of the club reflects the knowledge that there is only one true progressive in this race, and he is Mike Honda.”
But club member and Khanna campaign volunteer Mary Morris blogged last Wednesday about the process, noting Khanna had attended the February endorsement meeting and Honda didn’t. Pushing for a re-vote, she said, was “the epitome of pettiness. … Do we really want a congressman whose staff, under his leadership, needs two chances to get something done?”
UPDATE @ 1:39 P.M.: “Congressman Honda skipped both of the Berryessa-North San Jose Democratic Club forums, and every other Democratic club forum throughout this campaign,” Law said in an email. “His handlers can desperately spin Ro’s recent endorsements from Democratic Mayor Chuck Reed and the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce, but voters are much more concerned with the Congressman’s absenteeism and whether or not he is still up to the job.”