California’s “jungle primary” system, in which the top-two vote-getters in statewide primary elections advance to the general election regardless of party affiliation, was first implemented two years ago in California’s 2012 general election. Due to the new primary structure, Rep. Mike Honda, a seven-term Democratic Congressman currently representing California’s 17th District, may have to defend his seat from a member of his own party in what could be the heaviest political fight of his career.
According to the Contra Costa Times, Honda faces two immediate problems in the 17th District: an erosion of his Asian-American constituent base, and a strong challenge from well-funded first-time Democratic candidate Ro Khanna, who served as assistant deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Commerce under President Obama. Khanna has reportedly garnered a significant amount of support, and more importantly, money, from the Silicon Valley power players he hopes to represent.
Jim Cottrill, a Congressional expert and professor at Santa Clara University, explained the mood in the 17th district to the Times: “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. I think it’s been a slow building of momentum for Ro Khanna’s campaign.”
Meanwhile, both Democrats face a challenge from Republican dark horse candidate Vanila Singh, a professor and physician at Stanford University, who caused a bit of an uproar in the district when recent polling showed her to be in second place, behind Honda but ahead of Khanna. The other Republican candidate, Joel VanLandingham, has not done much fundraising, though he has participated in recent debates (Singh has not).
Compounding Honda’s troubles with Khanna and Singh are the 17th district’s shifting demographics. According to the report, when Honda, a Japanese-American, was first elected to the House in 2000, 17.6 percent of the district was Asian-American. That number is now 51.4 percent. However, since 2000, the Indo-American population in the district has exploded, while Japanese and Korean population numbers have held steady. Currently, just 1.5 percent of the district is Japanese-American, while Indo-Americans like Khanna make up 15 percent.
In addition, the post-2010 redrawing of the district’s boundaries reportedly cut out a large chunk of Honda’s base in San Jose. While he won in 2012 in the newly redrawn district, this will be the first time he faces a significant challenge from a member of his own Democratic party, in addition to a challenge from a well-qualified Republican.
However, should the two Democrats succeed in pushing out Singh and advancing to the general election, Khanna may have the upper hand. So far, he has raised $3.7 million and has hired a formidable campaign staff, including Jeremy Bird, former national field director for Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.
“I think Mike Honda cares about the same things. But for the past 15 years, we’ve heard the same rhetoric,” Khanna told the Times.
For his part, Honda said in the report that he is still an advocate for businesses and families in the area, and that his supporters “have faith” in him.
The California primary will be held on Tuesday, June 3.