Indian American closes gap in poll battle for Silicon Valley

  • Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times, Washington
  • Updated: Oct 14, 2014 19:58 IST

As US mid-term elections approach, a new poll shows an Indian American is closer than ever to represent Silicon Valley in the House of Representatives, unseating the incumbent.

The challenger, Ro Khanna, had trailed the incumbent, Mike Honda, both Democrats, miserably for weeks — by a massive 20 points when anyone last took a measure.

They are now in “dead heat”, according to a poll released by Khanna’s campaign on Monday — both of them tied at 38%, with 24% of respondents still undecided.

But the Honda campaign hit back swiftly with its own poll findings showing the congressman holding on to his lead, although marginally shaved down to 15 points.

Khanna and Honda are locked in a battle for California’s Congressional District 17,
which is home to Silicon Valley’s tech titans Apple, Yahoo, Facebook, Intel and eBay.

Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg are among many of Khanna’s early Silicon Valley backers — with contributions to his campaign funds and endorsements.

Honda has represented the constituency seven times (each term of two years) and, being of Japanese descent, he has also been somewhat of a paterfamilias for Asian Americans.

He mentored Ami Bera, for instance, the only Indian American in the House of Representatives. Bera has not endorsed Khanna, and recently refused to discuss the contest when asked.

Many Indian Americans are actually rooting for Khanna to lose, for taking on Honda, but they are mostly those living outside the constituency, and even the state.

Khanna dismisses them as DC insiders, the kind of people, and culture, he is running against, much like President Barack Obama when he ran first for the White House in 2008.

There are policy and personnel similarities.

Many Team Obama operatives are now with Khanna. The memo on Khanna catching up with Honda was issued by Jeremy Bird, top field organizer for Obama in 2008 and 2012.
Bird said the new poll showed the election, if held today, could end in a “photo finish”, which was a “tremendous turnaround” from the primaries four months ago.

Khanna had finished second then, which qualified him for the general election in California’s electoral system, but by what had then looked like an unbridgeable gap.
But can Khanna pull it off?

“Ro’s a friend, but he has a tough row to hoe,” said Toby Chaudhuri, a former White House advisor and strategist for presidents Obama and Bill Clinton.

Poll positions tighten in the final stretch, Chaudhuri said, but he believes Khanna may have stretched himself, and his resources, too thin for him to last the distance.

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