Rep. Mike Honda finished first in one of the nation's hottest congressional races Tuesday, and the size of his margin portends a huge challenge for his opponent and fellow Democrat Ro Khanna in November.
With most of the votes counted early Wednesday morning, Honda, D-San Jose, had about 49 percent of the vote while Khanna, a former Obama administration official from Fremont, had about 27 percent. Republicans Vanila Singh of Fremont and Joel VanLandingham of San Jose finished far behind.
An ebullient Honda said voters understood "our message is about our record of accomplishments" in making sure everyone shares in Silicon Valley's economic bounty, with access to good jobs, housing and education. His campaign's aggressive mail, phone and door-to-door efforts contributed to his margin of victory Tuesday, he said.
"We've got to keep doing that right up to Nov. 4," he said.
Khanna did not sound crestfallen Tuesday night.
"We always knew it would be a tough race -- we started out at 3 percent in the polls, and I'm very excited about where we've come," he said, adding that he now has "five more months of continuing to build our grass-roots movement and meeting more voters."
"The trend lines are great, and I fully expect that we'll win in November," Khanna said.
Honda and Khanna will vie to represent Congressional District 17 in the heart of Silicon Valley. It's the first Asian-American majority district outside of Hawaii. So the race is expected to keep drawing attention from the bay to the Beltway.
Khanna, 37, stands to inherit at least some of the votes that went to the Republicans in this race. It's hard to see how anyone who voted for Singh or VanLandingham would choose the archliberal Honda, 72, in November; Khanna is liberal, too, but offers a more tech-industry-friendly message that is more likely to appeal to crossover voters than Honda's.
But Khanna -- who outraised Honda in all but the most recent quarter of this election cycle -- has burned through what was a huge fundraising edge, so the two Democrats now have roughly the same amount of money to spend from now through November. Khanna must keep building upon the sizable grass-roots support he has grown so far while Honda will have the name recognition and bully pulpit of incumbency plus support from labor unions.
Larry Gerston, a political-science professor at San Jose State, said November will see higher turnout from a more moderate electorate, and Khanna "has to get a good portion of those to be competitive" given Tuesday's results.
"Money doesn't often trump incumbency, especially if the incumbent really hasn't done anything wrong," Gerston said, adding that Khanna can compete but "is playing catch-up."
Khanna says Silicon Valley needs a more vibrant voice in Congress, even if he agrees with much of what Honda has quietly said over the years.
There's little or no daylight between them on most subjects, from abortion to voting rights to veterans, but Khanna claims Honda hasn't been effective enough on the taxation, immigration and technology issues vital to the district's interests. Honda said he's brought a lot of federal money to the area for everything from local nonprofits' budgets to BART's extension, and remains a staunch advocate not only for the interests of the district's businesses but also for its working families.
Khanna spent his money on top-shelf consultants such as Jeremy Bird, national field director of President Barack Obama's 2012 re-election campaign, as well as cutting-edge campaign technology, enough staff to organize an enviable grass-roots volunteer network and an early jump on TV advertising. Honda chose to appear with his challengers only once, in a May 3 League of Women Voters forum in Fremont. Khanna berated him for refusing head-to-head debates before Honda agreed to debate him in the fall.
In other Bay Area House races: