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.
First, 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.”