Posted on: May 18, 2014
Hailed as a master at rallying Asian-American votes in national elections, Honda now might be undone by the changing ethnic makeup of his own district — the first Asian-American majority district outside of Hawaii. The veteran politician never has had to fear primary challenges, but now California’s “top two” system has left him vulnerable to another Democrat’s attack.
Honda, 72, used to enjoy the support of Silicon Valley’s top business leaders, but many have flocked to Ro Khanna, 37, a better-funded, more tech-savvy Democrat who appeals to their “2.0” desires. Even the San Jose home in which Honda has lived for more than half his life no longer sits in his district because a new, voter-approved citizens panel made the once-a-decade remapping less partisan.
So today Honda finds himself among the nation’s most vulnerable House incumbents, struggling to keep his career from ending in one of the country’s most closely watched congressional battles. While tea party challengers have been waging a fight in recent years for the soul of the Republican Party, the 17th District race signals the growing risk to long-safe California Democrats from members of their own party.
“A lot of the valley has been kind of torn — they think Mike Honda is a nice guy and has represented the district for a long time, but nonetheless think Ro Khanna might be a better fit,” said Jim Cottrill, a Santa Clara University professor and an expert on Congress. “I think it’s been a slow building of momentum for Ro Khanna’s campaign.”
Honda and Khanna are expected to finish ahead of two Republican challengers in the June 3 primary, setting up a showdown in November’s general election. The race is considered fascinating even inside the Beltway, said Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “There is a bit of buzz about Honda being in more trouble than previously thought.”