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Mike Honda and Ro Khanna Will Finally Debate on Monday Night

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Ro Khanna (L) is challenged Mike Honda (R) for his seat in Congress. (Courtesy Ro Khanna, Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

I’m just going to pretend you will not, for the most part, be glued to sports on TV this evening -- playoff baseball or Monday Night Football.

That's because there will also be plenty of action in the political arena in San Jose.  For the first time, voters will see and hear longtime Democratic Rep. Mike Honda debate his Democratic challenger, Ro Khanna -- one on one -- after beating him by  20 points in the June primary. Finally, voters in Congressional District 17 can compare and contrast the candidates' command of the issues, debate styles and age difference.

The district, which hugs the heart of Silicon Valley, includes parts of the East Bay -- the cities of Fremont, Newark and Milpitas in southern Alameda County -- and Cupertino, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara and north San Jose.  It's also the only Asian-majority district in the continental United States, but given that many Chinese and Indian immigrants have only recently arrived to work in Silicon Valley, the electorate is not Asian majority ... yet.

This is the 38-year-old Khanna's opportunity to share the same congressional platform as Honda and show parity.  On the flip side, this gives the 73-year-old Honda a chance to show he still has what it takes to serve an eighth term in office.

Listen to Debate Between Honda and Khanna: Monday at 6:30 p.m. on KQED-88.5 FM.


Honda has been sitting on a pile of cash waiting for the final stretch of the campaign to release television  ads.  Note that he doesn't even mention his challenger.

So who will be watching the debate? Aside from reporters and hard-core campaign supporters, that is?

“In the big picture, this is a particularly dull election in California,”  said Bill Whalen of the Hoover Institution, a public policy think tank at Stanford University. “There is no drama in any statewide race. The governor (Jerry Brown) is going win by 20 to 30 points. There are ballot measures, but nothing that really quickens the pulse, the kind of thing that will turn out a base on either side. You add to that the fact that, especially in a Democratic district, it’s kind of a flat year for Democrats, and the big question in this race is who actually bothers to vote on Election Day.”

There are few differences between the candidates on big issues like same-sex marriage,  abortion, Social Security and the Affordable Care Act.

Honda is by all accounts a team player, a progressive Democrat who has voted consistently to support the party, human rights and federal funding for various projects in his home district.

Khanna is an intellectual property lawyer and former Commerce Department official during President Obama's first term, who spent millions to introduce himself to the district before the primary.

In recent weeks, the Khanna campaign has made much of leaked emails alleging Honda's chief of staff blurred the lines between her official duties and her work on his re-election campaign.

Then we learned that the identity of the e-mail leaker is a former Honda aide.  He was arrested last year after allegedly threatening to shoot people, including the chief of staff and her daughter.

Will Khanna raise the issue Monday night? He may choose to focus instead  on the fundamental messages of his campaign: that he’s more qualified to represent Silicon Valley and he is not beholden to party politics. Here's how Khanna frames it in one of his TV ads:

The 75-minute debate will be moderated by Raj Mathai, an anchor at NBC-owned KNTV. The panelists are Ryan Grim, Washington bureau chief for The Huffington Post; Thuy Vu, host of "KQED Newsroom"'; Melinda Jackson, associate professor of political science at San Jose State; and Looloo Amante, a San Jose State student.

It will be  aired live starting at 6:30 p.m. on NBC Bay Area Channel 11 (Comcast Channel 3/703 HD). The debate will be rebroadcast on KQED World (Comcast Channel 10/710 HD, or over the air on Channel 9-2) at 9 p.m. and KQED Plus (Comcast Channel 190, over the air on Channel 9-3) at 11 p.m. KQED Public Radio will also broadcast the debate live on its stations in San Francisco (88.5 FM) and Sacramento (89.3 FM).

For live coverage on Twitter, follow the conversation with the hashtag #CA17Debate.

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