SAN JOSE, California — In one of the rare California congressional debates to receive national attention, Democratic congressional candidate Ro Khanna fired shots at his incumbent rival, Rep. Mike Honda, leaving Honda on the defensive the entire evening, yet holding his own.
The highly-anticipated 75-minute (and only) debate brought the past, present, and future in contact on a full collision course Monday evening. It was a civilized yet anti-climactic debate which left neither man walking away as the clear victor and with questions still unanswered.
Topics of education reform, tax incentives, immigration, and the much-anticipated response to the Honda campaign’s email scandal were discussed. The two men sparred on many topics, and agreed on a few points, but to the surprise–and perhaps disappointment–of many in the press, the ethics violation issue was not fully addressed.
“I think Congressman Honda is a good man. I admire his life’s story. But nobody is perfect,” Khanna said noting that he expected an apology from Honda after his chief of staff of 14 years’ allegedly mixed her official duties with electioneering for Honda.
“Pay-to-play is not ethical…I hoped tonight the congressman would apologize and accept responsibility for this violation,” Khanna said while noting that practices such as this are at the core of the “dysfunction” at the heart of “special interests in American politics.”
Khanna, speaking to the press corps post-debate, said, “I was shocked that he didn’t apologize.”
Khanna focused on what he characterized as Honda’s less-than-satisfactory attendance in Congress, citing the fact that Honda has “missed 466 votes in his career of 14 years.” Honda responded by saying that there were deaths and births in his family which had caused his absences.
Both candidates agreed on several issues, such as raising the minimum wage and increasing the amount of federally-funded Pell Grants to college students, noting that they felt the need for a lowering of interest rates on student loans. “If we can bail out Wall Street, we certainly can get students loans to pay off their debts,” Khanna said.
Honda has been endorsed by the Democratic establishment, including by President Barack Obama himself. Khanna, who is an attorney as well as a former Obama commerce staffer (in 2009, he was appointed as deputy assistant commerce secretary), has endorsements from major Silicon Valley donors from companies like Yahoo!, Google, Facebook and SalesForce.
Khanna said that he would “reach across the aisle” with a bipartisan agenda, in what he said would be “a Republican controlled–unfortunately–Congress.” He noted that Honda “has one of the most partisan records in Congress…he is not bipartisan.”
Through the course of the debate, Khanna’s campaign sent out seven emails to the press corps backing several points Honda’s challenger had made.
After the debate, Honda opted to avoid the press and to meet with constituents instead. He sent representatives from his campaign to address the media on his behalf.
Adam Alberti, who is the assistant spokesman for Honda’s campaign said there were “Lots of swings, no knockout punch. The challenger needed to make a showing here, and didn’t make it.”
Khanna said that he didn’t necessarily see the debate as “why I am better than Honda, but why in the hell do I want the job. Honda is part of the problem,” he said, noting that while the debate “was civil…I think it made the point.”