California’s 17th Congressional District has become a proving ground for whether the brightest Silicon Valley political campaigners can overthrow an existing congressman. Thanks to millions in donations from some of Silicon Valley’s biggest names, Democratic candidate Ro Khanna has a realistic shot at unseating long-time congressman, Democrat Mike Honda.
The endorsement of major newspapers, including the San Francisco Chronicle, helped Khanna win second in California’s open congressional primary, which allows the top two candidates to duke it out, even if they are from the same party.
The two held their first and only debate in San Jose last night. Their 75-minute polite disagreement showed that the race is more about a young upstart vs. the establishment than any particular policy.
Politically, there is not much difference between the two: Both support a minimum wage, funding for public education, immigration reform, and changes to the corporate tax code. On a few issues, Khanna gave specifics. He wants legislation bolstering technology skills training in schools. He also supports a piecemeal immigration reform that only works in favor of highly skilled immigrants rather than a comprehensive reform.
So why is Silicon Valley pumping money into a congressman that is, on paper, a mirror image of the existing one? Because they want a political shark who can get things done.
Khanna accused Honda of only passing one law in the last 14 years. During the debate, Khanna frequently referred back to Honda’s dismal productivity. “Congressman Honda started his career with the greatest of intentions, but has become part of the problem,” he said.
Honda however, is no fool. When Honda was asked if he was out of ideas, the 73-year-old Congressman replied, “I’m not burnt out; I’ve got a lot of gas in this tank.”
At the end of the debate, NBC news anchor Raj Mathai noted that the debate was pretty lackluster. There was “no gatcha’ moment and no big grand slams for either candidate.”
Indeed, the debate was rather uneventful. Ultimately, this election will be just as much about whether a sitting congressman can do very little and still keep his job, as it is about whether loads of Silicon Valley cash can win an election.
For more details and video of the debate, visit the NBC news site.