SUNNYVALE -- Vice President Joe Biden made a campaign-style appearance in Silicon Valley on Saturday with U.S. Rep. Mike Honda, dropping by a local Hobee's restaurant to work the crowd on behalf of the veteran Democratic congressman, who is facing an unusually strong primary election challenge next year.

Startled restaurant patrons gave Biden and Honda, D-San Jose, a warm reception, applauding when they walked into the coffee shop shortly before 11 a.m. As the two worked the room, diners lined up to introduce themselves and have their photos taken with the pair.

"Mr. Vice President! I love you," said 64-year-old Carrie Vaughn, who gave Biden a big hug after waiting her turn to speak with him.

While the event was clearly political, it was low-key. Biden could be seen gesturing to Honda and praising him to Hobee's patrons, but there appeared to be little discussion of the seven-term incumbent's anticipated re-election challenge from Ro Khanna, an ambitious, 36-year-old attorney with extensive ties to Silicon Valley's tech industry.

Honda has said he's not taking his re-election for granted. "I'm always concerned. Anybody that says they're not concerned is dropping their guard," he said Saturday.

The district is heavily Democratic and Asian-American, and the incumbent is a longtime local politician with ties to labor and the district's sizable Latino minority. Honda reacted to Khanna's early interest in the race by locking up endorsements from President Barack Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.


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But Khanna, a former Obama administration Commerce Department official, is well-funded and has tapped a cadre of former Obama campaign advisers to help him with the race.

"I welcome Vice President Joe Biden to the heart of Silicon Valley -- a place where the currency of ideas is what matters and the innovations that result change the world," Khanna said. "It is always an honor to have the vice president in the 17th district, and I hope to welcome him back sometime soon."

Neither Biden nor Honda spoke formally at the restaurant, and they took only a few questions from reporters. Honda said later that they talked about education and the local economy with several restaurant patrons, including longtime Honda supporter Shelly Kapoor Collins, the CEO of a technology services contractor called Enscient.

Biden at one point sought to distance himself from criticism of government data-gathering programs that were revealed two weeks ago by a former National Security Agency contractor, Edward Snowden, who fled to Hong Kong.

In recent days, civil liberties groups, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, have been promoting a video clip of a 2006 interview in which Biden, then a U.S. senator from Delaware, voiced strong concerns about a National Security Agency program that collected telephone "meta-data" -- records of calls made by Americans during the administration of President George W. Bush.

Obama defended the collection of similar "meta-data" when he gave a speech in San Jose on June 7, while stressing that the government doesn't listen to actual phone conversations. Biden had rejected that defense when it was offered by the Bush administration previously.

"I don't have to listen to your phone calls to know what you're doing. If I know every single phone call you made, I'm able to determine every single person you talk to," he told CBS News in 2006. "I can get a pattern about your life that is very, very intrusive."

But when asked by this newspaper if he had changed his views, Biden said Saturday, "No -- I was talking about a different program then. It was a different program."

The Bush administration program was controversial in part because it was undertaken without court approval. Obama administration officials say the current program was authorized by a secret national security court and conducted with the knowledge of congressional leaders.

Most of the conversation at Hobee's was light, as Biden lifted several small children in his arms and jokingly told a muscular, 28-year-old Google worker named Jason Dobbs: "Hey, you gotta work on your biceps."

"I felt so close to him," said Vaughn, who had come with her family from San Lorenzo to visit the nearby Great America amusement park. "Whenever I see him on TV, he just seems like a regular guy. This just seemed like he was coming into my living room, so I wanted to give him a hug."

Biden, who headlined a Democratic campaign fundraiser in San Francisco on Friday night, said he was headed to Stanford University on Saturday afternoon to see a grandniece, who is receiving her master's degree this weekend, before returning to Washington, D.C.

Staff writer Josh Richman contributed to this report. Contact Brandon Bailey at 408-920-5022; follow him at Twitter.com/BrandonBailey