Rep. Mike Honda is not messing around.
The California Democrat's campaign released an internal poll Thursday showing him with 57 percent support in a hypothetical open primary matchup against Republican Evelyn Li, his 2012 opponent, and potential Democratic challenger Ro Khanna. Li drew 13 percent (she won 27 percent in the November general) and Khanna earned 5 percent. In California, the top two primary finishers of any party advance to a head-to-head general election.
The poll release is another in a series of aggressive steps Honda has taken to cut off a possible challenge from Khanna, a former official in President Obama's Commerce Department with big-time fundraising connections among Silicon Valley Democrats. It's not surprising that Khanna is little-known in the poll; he has never held elected office. But he has the funds and the connection to get well-known in a hurry, which is why Honda has responded with such aggression to Khanna's early moves.
Honda's camp announced a reelection endorsement by President Obama back in January, just a couple months after the 2012 campaign ended. Honda has also rolled out messages of support from other top Democrats like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and Democratic Congressional Campaign Commmitee chairman Steve Israel. Honda has already announced his 2014 campaign team, too, in response to early moves by Khanna.
Khanna raised over $1.2 million in 2011 while mulling a run in the East Bay's 15th Congressional District, then represented by Democratic Rep. Pete Stark. But when Stark decided to seek reelection, Khanna chose not to run, likely hoping to wait the veteran out and try to take over from Stark when he retired. But freshman Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell short-circuited that plan by defeating Stark in 2012 in an intra-party general election.
Now, Khanna still has that cash in his campaign bank account and appears to be thinking of using it to challenge Honda in the 17th District, centered in the heart of Silicon Valley. Khanna has recruited friendly state party delegates in the district, according to sources, and he has extensive tech and manufacturing connections to exploit while arguing that Silicon Valley needs tech-savvy leadership in Congress. Meanwhile, as the San Francisco Chronicle has reported, Honda has sought to remake himself as a tech champion while preparing for a generational contest.
The race would also pit different Asian-American constituencies against each other. Honda is of Japanese descent -- he was interned in a government camp during World War II -- while Khanna is Indian-American.
Honda's poll was conducted by Lake Research Partners, which surveyed 503 likely open primary voters between February 17 and February 20. The poll's margin of error was plus-or-minus 4.4 percentage points.