Ro Khanna will debate fellow Democrat and incumbent Rep. Mike Honda on Monday evening in what has been deemed one of the Golden State’s most bizarre and fiery political races to date. The Dem vs. Dem face-off will be the first and only debate ahead of the Nov. 4 general election for a seat in California’s 17th congressional district.
The televised debate will take place at 6:30 pm in San Jose and will be aired on NBC affiliate network KNTV (channel 11). It is being cosponsored by San Jose University and the Huffington Post, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The candidates will reportedly be questioned by a panel consisting of a team of academics, journalists, and students from San Jose State.
It will be Honda’s first time debating in over 10 years, in spite of having been elected to and serving seven terms in office in California’s South Bay. California’s newly-adopted “jungle” or “blanket” primary election system allows for the top two candidates to proceed to the general election regardless of political party, which is responsible for the two Democratic candidates going to bat.
Despite having significantly more cash on hand and the support of many loyal backers who have supported him over the years, Honda has suffered somewhat of a blow to his reputation after being slammed by Khanna with ethics claims surrounding leaked emails from his former congressional chief of staff showing there was a blurring of lines between official duties and electioneering for Honda.
Other emails provided evidence that Honda’s staff also took regular “coffee breaks” during office hours to discuss political work and strategize about Honda’s campaign.
“This was a common practice — and instead of doing the work of constituents, you have an office running a perpetual political operation. That’s unprecedented in the Bay Area,” Khanna said of the act, the Chronicle notes.
Jennifer Van der Heide, who served as Honda’s chief of staff for 14 years, said she “fell short of the congressman’s expectations and the example I try to set for the office. I have apologized to the congressman for my oversight.” Khanna’s camp referred to Van der Heide’s email scandal response as a “semi-apology.”
The ethics complaints against Honda will almost assuredly be a question Honda will be asked to address during Monday evening’s debate. However, the severity of the allegations are also in question, in addition to whether it was Honda’s only violation. The question also looms as to whether or not voters will actually care that such an alleged violation has been committed by an elected official.
As has been evidenced throughout history, voters’ “eyes glaze over” sometimes, even when such issues are placed right in front of them. As San Jose State political science Professor Larry Gerston puts it, that happens “because there are other, more pointed questions that relate to people’s lunch boxes and jobs,” the Chronicle notes.
While Honda, 72, “has to show that he still is competent,” Khanna, 38, “has to show there’s a reason to depose the incumbent,” Gerston says.” He has to show that Mike Honda has weaknesses that are unacceptable for a person of his position — and that’s a high bar.”
But it is certainly not an impossible bar, as was evidenced by Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari, who proved victorious in his one and only debate against incumbent Democratic Governor Jerry Brown last month. Brown is the longest-serving governor in California’s history.