Republican Could Help Honda in Ultimate California House Primary

A little-known Republican could bust attorney Ro Khanna's well-funded quest to defeat another Democrat, longtime Rep. Michael M. Honda, in a Silicon Valley-based House district.

The two California Democrats are facing off in one of the cycle's most competitive and expensive intraparty House contests of the cycle. Khanna has raised more than $3.2 million for the race to date, with $2 million in the bank. That number dwarfs the $622,000 that seven-term lawmaker Honda had on hand at the end of last year.

Despite Khanna's financial assets, Republican Vanila Singh, an anesthesiologist, could serve as a spoiler for the Democratic newcomer in the June 3 primary. In the Golden State, the top two vote recipients in the primary proceed to the general election, regardless of party. Until recently, most California Democrats believed Honda and Khanna would fight a protracted battle until November.

"The path for Ro Khanna becomes harder running against a popular Democrat and an establishment Republican who’s going to get 20-some percent in the primary," a California Democratic operative told CQ Roll Call. "What’s left of pie for him to try and get second place?"

The 17th District is strong Democratic territory. Last cycle, President Barack Obama won the district with 72 percent, and Honda performed about one point better than he did. Still, even in this district, Khanna must now battle for second place — probably around 30 percent of the vote.

To be sure, Khanna will have the resources to make his case to voters. But instead of having 11 months to make that argument, Khanna now has less than five months to convince Democratic primary voters to pick him over Honda.

It's worth noting as well that Khanna's path would clear if another Republican entered the race and split the GOP vote in the top two primary. Candidates have until March 7 to file paperwork to appear on the ballot.

California's 17th District is rated a Safe Democratic contest by Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.