SAN JOSE — In the months leading up to the June 3 election in the 17th Congressional District, Rep. Mike Honda (D-San Jose) and Democratic challenger Ro Khanna have accused each other of negative campaigning.

Under the new system, the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, will proceed to the general election in November, which means that the Honda-Khanna rivalry may continue for a few more months.

Honda has touted his accomplishments since taking office in 2001 and his endorsements from Washington leaders, including President Obama.

“Over the past four years, I’ve worked closely with President Obama and his administration to keep Silicon Valley equipped to lead in the areas of manufacturing, education and high-tech innovation,” Honda said last year. “California’s 17th is one of the most dynamic and diverse districts in America, sitting at the epicenter of ideas, innovation, and technological leadership. I look forward to continuing to work with the President and his administration, bringing my real life experience, my record of accomplishments, and vision for America’s road ahead, to the lives of my constituents.”

Rep. Mike Honda and Ro Khanna
Rep. Mike Honda and Ro Khanna

Khanna, who has worked for the U.S. Commerce Department and the Silicon Valley law firm of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, has said that he represents “a new type of forward-looking vision.” Khanna is about 34 years younger than Honda. His endorsers include Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.

A Khanna commercial referred to the age issue by asking, “Isn’t it time to put the old politics aside?” and citing a newspaper endorsement that calls Honda “a politician of the past.”

In March, Honda’s supporters took issue with a statement on Khanna’s website that Honda’s campaign “continues to exaggerate Rep Honda’s role in the BART project” and that “the federal funding only came after voters in Santa Clara County approved a half-cent sales tax.” The allegation referred to the extension of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system to San Jose.

A letter signed by, among others, former Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose), stated that “Mike Honda’s leadership on this issue in Washington and in the district has been vital to bringing BART and the thousands of accompanying jobs to our area” and called on Khanna “to correct the information on your website and what is given to the media by your campaign, and avoid further distortions of Congressman Honda’s record.”

Khanna’s campaign responded to a Honda mailer that implied Khanna had to resign from his post as deputy assistant commerce secretary. Khanna’s “Truth Squad” stated, “This is shockingly dishonest. Ro left the administration after two years of traveling around the country on behalf of the Obama Administration and only after Gary Locke, the United States secretary of commerce, had left. Congressman Honda’s staff could not defend the claim.”

Honda’s “Truth Squad” claimed that during a run for Congress in 2004, Khanna used former President Bill Clinton’s image on campaign materials, falsely implying an endorsement.

Perhaps the most serious allegation from Khanna, a son of Indian immigrants, is that ethnic stereotyping is being used against him in pro-Honda mailers from the Working for Us PAC, which charge that Khanna is “sending jobs overseas.”

One mailer reads, “With many good-paying American jobs getting shipped to other counries, Ro Khanna maintains that outsourcing is good for the American economy. That’s just not right for working families … Khanna wants to lower taxes on corporate overseas profits, which encourages companies to create jobs abroad rather than here at home.”

A letter to Honda from four community leaders, including three co-founders of the India Community Center, read: “I am appalled to see the campaign mailer that was sent out to voters in the 17th District by the Working for Us Political Action Committee. On the front page, it has a picture of Ro Khanna – an Indian American. In large red letters it reads: ‘DON’T LET RO KHANNA OUTSOURCE OUR JOBS’ and ‘SENDING JOBS OVERSEAS. RO KHANNA.’ This is the crudest form of racially coded language.

“The intentional association of an Indian American and outsourcing to gin up fear and hatred is deplorable and unacceptable – especially in the heart of Silicon Valley. It is sad to see it coming in support of your campaign, Congressman; you and your family suffered much from racial hatred during the Second World War.

“I implore you to disassociate yourself from such dirty tricks. These tactics should have no place in the political discourse in this meritocratic district where Indian Americans have contributed so much.”

Tyler Law of the Khanna campaign said, “Ro is deeply offended by the divisive tone of this latest attack piece and the overall lack of accountability for outside groups that inject this kind of poison into our campaigns.”

Honda’s campaign said in a statement, “We had nothing to do with this independent expenditure and aren’t going to be distracted by what other campaigns or groups are doing. Our campaign is focused on getting out the vote for Mike Honda on Tuesday.”

In a May 23 press release, Honda’s campaign said that a public poll by SurveyUSA shows that “Honda has twice as much support amongst voters in California’s 17th District than his closest opponent. The poll numbers are: Mike Honda 40%, Ro Khanna 21%, Vanila Singh 8%, Joel VanLandingham 6%, with 24% undecided and a sampling error of 4.4%.

“Today’s release of the poll follows yesterday’s release of the last FEC fundraising numbers before the primary. Those reports showed that Ro Khanna has spent $2.7M through May 14 – more than twice as much as Rep. Honda’s campaign so far. The report also showed that Honda’s campaign outraised Khanna’s campaign again, and that Honda has more cash on hand going into the general election …

“If Khanna advances past the primary, as the poll suggests, he will be starting the general election in a tremendously weak position against Rep. Honda, who has spent less than $100,000 in advertising so far, compared to over $1 million from Khanna’s campaign. The Honda campaign has always maintained that it will have the resources necessary to win in the November election.”

In a Facebook post the day before the election, Khanna said, “I’m honored to have earned endorsements from every major newspaper in the Bay Area. It means a lot that they’re behind my vision for change in #CA17.”

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