One of the most contentious primaries in the country reached a fever pitch Thursday after a labor-backed Democratic political action committee adopted a controversial strategy in support of Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.).
Honda faces a strong challenge from fellow Democrat Ro Khanna, an attorney and former Obama administration official. Republican physician Dr. Vanila Singh and Republican businessman and executive recruiter Joel Vanlandinham are also running in California's nonpartisan primary June 3. The top two vote-getters, regardless of their party affiliation, will advance to November's general election in the Asian-American majority, Silicon-Valley area 17th District.
As the Bay Area News Group's Josh Richman first reported, the Working for Us PAC is paying for one set of mailers attacking Khanna, with another set speaking positively of Singh, in an apparent bid to cost Khanna votes.
At a minimum, the tactic appears to be aimed at giving Honda a larger margin of victory over Khanna, though the ultimate goal could be to push Singh past Khanna in Tuesday's primary so Honda has an easier path to victory in November.
A Federal Elections Commission report shows that the PAC is spending $45,113.69 on mail attacking Khanna and $21,425.75 on mail in support of Singh.
The Singh mailer calls her "The Right Choice for Republicans," and at the bottom reads, "Republicans: Vote for Vanila Singh for Congress."
“Our primary goal here is to try to ensure the re-election of Mike Honda … who has fought every day of his career to improve the lives of working people,” the PAC's President Steve Rosenthal told Richman on Thursday. “We wanted to make sure Republicans know who the real Republican is,” he added of the pro-Singh mailer, claiming there isn't much daylight between Singh and Khanna in terms of their policy positions.
Khanna's campaign had harsh words for the PAC's mailer strategy.
“Congressman Honda’s close supporters and Vanila Singh have formed an alliance,” Khanna campaign manager Leah Cowan said in a statement included in Richman's report. “This is a desperate move by people who claim to be progressive champions, but spend money propping up a Republican candidate. This is the worst type of old style politics and Congressman Honda should immediately denounce his close supporters who are engaging in this behavior.”
Honda's campaign defended itself by noting that independent expenditure committees like the labor-backed PAC are barred from coordinating messages with the campaign.
“We had nothing to do with this independent expenditure and aren’t going to be distracted by what other campaigns or groups are doing,” Honda spokesman Vivek Kembaiyan said Thursday. “Our campaign is focused on getting out the vote for Mike Honda on Tuesday and making sure that voters know about Mike’s record of delivering for the middle class families of Silicon Valley.”
Singh's campaign, for its part, didn't seem to mind the help.
"If a PAC would like to tell Republican voters that Vanila Singh is the real Republican in the race, then we agree with that message and have been working for months by contacting tens of thousands of voters to inform them of the same thing," Singh campaign manager Matt Shupe said.
The National Republican Congressional Committee and Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) have both backed Singh's candidacy.
Khanna's campaign asked Honda to sign a "people's pledge" to prevent outside spending from influencing their race's outcome in January. Honda's campaign declined the offer.
The challenger's campaign also filed an ethics charge against Honda last week concerning mass mailings from the congressman's office to his constituents.
The race has attracted national attention in part because, while President Barack Obama and many of California's highest-profile politicians have endorsed Honda, several of the president's former campaign aides work for Khanna.
Khanna has received donations from a number of Silicon Valley luminaries, such as Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and Napster co-founder Sean Parker, while Honda has received support from a host of progressive advocacy groups.