California’s 17th congressional district, which includes parts of Silicon Valley and the East Bay, is rated as “Safe Democrat,” but it is the subject of fierce competition and charges of foul play on all sides in the 2014 primary.
Each candidate–from incumbent Rep. Mike Honda (D), to Democrat challenger Ro Khanna, to Republicans Vanila Singh, Joel Vanlandingham, and Vinesh Rathore–has accused the others of colluding to rig the primary.
What triggered the frenzy appears to be the surprisingly strong showing of Singh in a recent poll by the liberal Public Policy Polling group, which showed the Republican in second place, ahead of well-funded Democrat challenger Ro Khanna, who enjoys the backing of Silicon Valley’s tech giants. Even more surprisingly, Singh’s poll numbers jumped 18% when voters were told her party identification and that of the other candidates.
The controversy centers around California’s relatively new primary system, known as the “blanket,” “top two” or “jungle” primary. The system was approved by voters in Proposition 14 of 2010, and provides that all candidates compete in a single primary election, with the first- and second-place candidates facing off in the general election. Since its first use in 2011, the jungle system has been a boon for outsiders and independent candidates.
For example, in the special election to replace Rep. Jane Harman (D) in May 2011, Republican Craig Huey took second place after splitting the two Democratic Party favorites, Janice Hahn (the eventual winner) and Debra Bowen. In 2012, independent candidate Bill Bloomfield won the right to challenge 33rd congressional district Rep. Henry Waxman (D) in the general election after defeating several rivals from the two major parties.
The Silicon Valley race in 2014 was initially seen as a three-way contest between Democrats Honda and Khanna on the one hand, and Republican Singh on the other. The February PPP poll showed Honda leading both rivals by at least 16%, and defeating each individually by even larger margins. In the race for second place, however, Singh held a 3% lead on Khanna, suggesting that the Republican could effectively split the Democratic vote.
Khanna, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce in the Obama administration, had outraised Honda and all other rivals through the end of 2013, and his campaign had nearly $2 million cash-on-hand (Honda has since begun to catch up, outraising Khanna in the first quarter of 2014; Singh’s numbers are unknown). The fact that Khanna was lagging in third place despite raising so much money set off tremors of fear–and opportunism.
Alameda County Republican Central Committee member Jeffrey Wald filed a lawsuit on March 26 in which he charged that “Khanna recruited candidates to enter the race as Republicans to split the Republican vote three ways, effectively diluting votes that would otherwise be cast in favor of Singh.”
Wald noted that Vanlandingham and Rathore had been added just before the March 7 deadline, and he sought to disqualify their nominations.
The court declined to eliminate Vanlandingham from the ballot, but disqualified Rathore because of problems with signatures on his nominating petitions.
Rathore told Breitbart News that Republican leaders aligned with Singh had “fil[ed] lawsuits against late entrants to make sure their candidate gets the maximum vote tally.” He said he barely had enough time to respond to the lawsuit, and denied any connection to the Khanna campaign.
He dismissed efforts to connect him to Khanna as a “conspiracy theory.” Though Rathore has worked for the same law firm, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, as Khanna, he notes that he left for Google before Khanna arrived at the firm, and that he worked on the East Coast while Khanna works in the firm’s Silicon Valley office.
Rathore, an attorney for Google, added that he had supported President Barack Obama in 2008 but had grown disillusioned, especially in response to recent revelations about the National Security Agency (NSA).
“Whatever Bush did with the Patriot Act, Obama’s got on steroids,” he said. “I saw the future of Internet, and the future of cloud computing, being compromised. It woke me up in a big way, and it woke up a lot of people in the Valley.”
He slammed the GOP establishment: “It’s disheartening to see the party roll over a grass-roots candidate.”
Vanlandingham, who is still in the race but is not raising money, told Breitbart News that he has been an active Republican for twenty years, noting that he had run as the party’s nominee for mayor of San Jose in 2002. Like Rathore, however, he denied involvement in any effort to help Khanna in the primary, and described himself as a victim of manipulation by the establishment: “Other folks from the party are trying to get rid of me,” he said.
Going further, Vanlandingham, who recruits programmers for Sony gaming projects, accused Republican frontrunner Singh of working with one of the Democrats.
“It’s obvious that she’s working for one of them,” he said. He described the effort to remove him from the ballot as a “farce,” adding: “Singh will never win as long as she follows the party line. It’s gonna be Honda or Ro Khanna. And this is a manipulated system to do that.”
Singh’s campaign denied Vanlandingham’s accusations: “Simply not true,” campaign manager Scott Luginbill told Breitbart News. Far from representing the “establishment,” he added, “Dr. Singh is not a politician. She is a highly accomplished physician running to bring her much needed, real-world expertise to Washington.”
He said the campaign had no relationship with Honda, Khanna, or even the Republican official filing the lawsuit. However, he claimed that other Republican candidates had been working with Khanna.
On March 27, Singh released a statement that “efforts to recruit multiple Republicans in order to split the Republican vote are disturbing.” Luginbill told Breitbart News that the February poll was the reason Khanna had “tried to run prop candidates, because the Republican base has to be fractured.”
He pointed out that one of Khanna’s supporters collected signatures for Vanlandingham–who told Breitbart News that he does not know her. (The Khanna campaign did not return a request for comment.)
The Honda campaign has also accused Khanna of running proxies. “This evidence that Ro Khanna’s supporters actively worked to get a Republican on the ballot is really troubling,” Honda’s campaign manager told the San Jose Mercury News.
Until June 3, the Valley is a jungle.
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