Jeremy Bird: Ro Khanna Well-Positioned for General Election Matchup


From: Jeremy Bird, General Consultant – Ro for Congress Campaign

To: Interested Parties

Re: Ro Khanna Well-Positioned for General Election Matchup

Date: June 4, 2014


Last night’s Primary Election in California was among the most-anticipated contests of the 2014 electoral cycle thus far – and the final numbers out of the 17th District ensure voters will have the opportunity to choose between Ro Khanna and Mike Honda to represent them in Congress this November.

As members of the media and pundits around the country continue to analyze the results this week and weigh the growing impact of Ro’s forward-looking vision in this critical congressional seat, following are some key takeaways to consider.


From the start, Ro made a commitment to building the kind of neighbor-to-neighbor, grassroots campaign that made all the difference in 2012. The goal all along was to build a foundation for November – by recruiting, training, and empowering grassroots volunteers in communities across the District – and ensure a General Election matchup by finishing in the top two during the Primary. 

Not only did Ro invest early in a people-focused program that resulted in volunteers reaching out to voters more than 300,000 times at their homes and on the phones, his unwavering commitment to grassroots organizing and his hard work – Ro himself knocked more than 5,200 doors and attended 184 meet-and-greets – means this on-the-ground advantage will only grow in the coming months.

By employing the same successful tactics that were critical in 2012 – including a data-driven grassroots campaign that targets the right voters with the right message and a smart digital program that reaches them online – Ro is in a strong position looking ahead to Election Day. 


In the final month of a Primary season that began for Ro and his team more than 14 months earlier, the campaign built so much momentum that Honda and his close supporters resorted to desperate attacks and shadowy parlor tricks that embody the worst of politics.

In the last month, Ro won the resounding endorsement of every newspaper in the District – including the San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, Contra Costa Times, Oakland Tribune, Milpitas Post, and Metro Silicon Valley.

Over the past year, Ro moved from polling at just 5% in a poll released by his opponent to pulling in more than 27% of the vote in a Primary contest that was split across 4 candidates. In sharp contrast, Mike Honda dropped from 57% in his own poll to just 48.6% last night.

That’s a 22-point swing in support in an election that split Independent voters across three potential options. And any time an incumbent falls below 50% – especially one who started with as strong name ID as Honda – that suggests a highly vulnerable candidate.

It’s no wonder that in the final weeks of the Primary, Congressman Honda ran in a predominantly negative campaign. In a move that surprised news outlets in the Bay Area, Rep. Honda took the unprecedented step of bailing on his longstanding, nice-guy image and going negative – sending three separate attack mailers that deliberately conflated a GAO report about the Commerce Department with Ro’s own service in the Obama Administration – for which Ro actually received categorical praise and a letter of commendation from the Undersecretary of the Department – and criticized Ro for overspending in a student government election by $100 at the age of 19. The Honda campaign’s false statements on Ro’s record earned them the dubious distinction for “reach of the year” in a San Francisco Chronicle editorial. In total, there were 8 attack mailers launched against Ro in the final weeks of the campaign.

At the same time, Honda failed to call out one of his closest supporters, Steve Rosenthal, and the “Working for Us” PAC for sending a series of racially-coded mailers that the Los Angeles Times said “appears intent on linking his Indian heritage with outsourcing — and doing so in a tech-dominated district where outsourcing to places such as India has long been a tender issue.” It’s both troubling and telling that Rep. Honda, Chair Emeritus of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, failed to denounce his supporters for these vicious attacks on Ro – who literally wrote the book on growing the manufacturing sector and creating good paying middle class jobs in the U.S. Honda’s failure to take a principled stand means that he will have to own the attack for the next five months. Overall, the “Swift Boat” tactics of attacking Ro at his greatest strength were disappointing, and a bit surprising. We will be prepared for them in the general election.

Even worse, the same PAC spent money on mailers designed to prop up Republican candidate Vanila Singh in a clear attempt to drive down Independent support for Ro – a move the Honda campaign dismissed as the work of “other groups.”

The blatant disregard for the facts and the third-party interference we’ve witnessed during the Primary are exactly the kind of old-school politics that Ro is running to change – and may have had a role in driving down Ro’s margin during the Primary. In sharp contrast to Honda, Ro has run a respectful and substantive campaign that focuses on the unique issues facing the District – and Ro hasn’t taken a dime from special interests or lobbyists. On election night, Ro again reiterated his standing invitation for Honda to join him in signing Senator Elizabeth Warren’s ‘People’s Pledge’.


Now, as we look ahead to the General Election fight, Ro has a number of factors playing in his favor.

1. The November electorate will be larger and more favorable to Ro 

  • More than 60,000 voters are expected to turn out in November who did not vote in the Primary Election.
  • Approximately 120,000 people will vote in the general election. Of those:
    • 28,100 voted for Honda in the primary
    • 15,700 voted for Ro in the primary
    • 76,200 voted for someone else or didn't vote in the primary
    • These voters are likely to be more moderate and Independent, less partisan, and both younger and more diverse.
    • Both public and private polling has found that Ro fares better with younger and Independent voters.
    • Polling has also shown that Democrats who do not vote in the primary will be less likely to support the incumbent, as they are typically less partisan and have less information about the candidates.

If both Ro and Honda retain the votes they received in the Primary -- and Ro wins the remaining voters that are up for grabs in the General Election by a margin of 58% to 42%, Ro will win in November.


Why is this likely? Honda's best performing group (strong partisan Democrats) is already accounted for in the primary vote. There is no more natural constituency for Rep. Honda to reach out to. Rep. Honda's worst performing groups, independent Democrats, DTS and Republican voters, make up the vast majority of the up for grabs vote pool. He has to win votes from groups outside his core appeal. This will be a formidable challenge because his vote share over the primary shrunk, especially with these groups, while Ro Khanna's grew.


2. The more voters learn about Ro Khanna, the more likely they are to support him.

Many General Election voters have yet to pay attention to this congressional race and Ro started this campaign with virtually no name recognition. But what we’ve seen in the past year is the more voters learn about Ro’s forward-looking vision – for creating good paying jobs, improving education, reforming a broken Congress, and fostering innovation in our classrooms and at our workplaces – the more likely they are to support him over Honda. This trend will continue in the coming months as Ro and his grassroots supporters engage and activate a new set of younger, less-partisan, and more moderate voters – many of whom will be hearing about both candidates for the first time.


The past few months have shown that Honda and his allies are nervous about Ro – and the challenges ahead for him are significant. Honda has displayed a lack of understanding of the fundamental issues facing this dynamic, innovative, and important district. And as the recent newspaper endorsements for Ro make clear, there is real concern that Honda lacks the vision needed to lead the 17th District so it is prepared to compete in the economy of the future:

San Jose Mercury News: Ro Khanna should replace Mike Honda in Congress

“Ro Khanna's time has come. Like any first-term congressman, he'll have a lot to learn. But he's a quick study who intelligently discusses complex legislation and economic theory. This contrasts with Honda, who, in describing a bill he has proposed, alluded several times to "Senator Connelly." We eventually realized he meant Mitch McConnell.”

San Francisco Chronicle: Ro Khanna offers upgrade in Congress for Silicon Valley

“…[Khanna] has demonstrated a command of issues that go well beyond tech.

Our endorsement of Ro Khanna is not so much a repudiation of Honda as a recognition of the opportunity for an upgrade for a congressional district defined by innovation, resourcefulness and a commitment to meritocracy. Khanna will help promote those values in a U.S. Capitol that desperately needs them. “

Metro Silicon Valley: Endorsement: Ro Khanna for Congress

“The seven-term Democratic congressman [Mike Honda] representing the heart of Silicon Valley has done little to give Silicon Valley a voice in Washington…We support fellow Democrat Ro Khanna, a 37-year old patent lawyer, former trade representative for President Obama and Stanford University economics lecturer. 


Ro believes voters have a stark choice ahead of them this November, and they ought to hear where both candidates stand on the issues that matter most in their communities – without interference and misinformation from outside groups. That’s why Ro is calling on Honda to:

Agree to 5 monthly debates between now and November. It’s time for Congressman Honda to have a respectful discussion about his vision for the district.

Sign the Senator Warren’s “People’s Pledge” to keep outside money and special interest groups out of this election.