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Thrust and Parry: Ro Khanna and Mike Honda in Vigorous Debate

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Democratic challenger Ro Khanna, left, makes a point during his general election debate with Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose. (John Green/Bay Area News Group)

It wasn't Monday Night Football or the baseball playoffs, but there were plenty of hits in Monday night's 75-minute debate between longtime Democratic Congressman Mike Honda and his Democratic challenger, Ro Khanna.

It's the only side-by-side match before the election on Nov. 4. If you missed it, NBC Bay Area, the host of the debate, has posted video here.

Naturally, both sides are declaring victory. Tyler Law, press secretary for the Ro Khanna for Congress campaign, tweeted.

"We felt great," said Vivek Kembaiyan, communications director for the Mike Honda for Congress campaign. "Congressman Honda did better than expected. Khanna needed to do something to drastically alter the race."

Khanna was in attack mode all evening, trying to do exactly that by challenging Honda's abilities and record at every turn. The two candidates answered questions ranging from H1B visas to student debt to immigration reform to income inequality in Silicon Valley. Repeatedly, both veered off from the questions to get to their own talking points and agendas.


"Nothing is getting done. I would work with Republicans," Khanna said.

The former Obama Administration Department of Commerce official argued that Honda has been in lock-step with the Democratic Party during his seven terms in office.

“In a Republican-controlled Congress, we’re going to need someone to influence the debate,” Khanna said.

But he did not give any specifics on how he would work across the aisle with Republicans on contentious issues like immigration reform and budgets.

The intellectual property lawyer appeared to be giving a strategic nod to local Republicans and Independents who voted for Vanila Singh and Joel Vanlandingham in the primary.

Khanna finished 20 points behind Honda in June. Analysts are now wondering if Khanna can close the gap with the voters who did not vote for Honda.

Congressional District 17 hugs the heart of Silicon Valley, including 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.

Khanna's biggest challenge is convincing fellow Democrats that Honda does not deserve to serve an eighth term in the heavily Democratic district.

Perhaps the most telling exchange in the debate came near the end when Honda was asked straight up if he’s burned out. Honda joked: "I’ve got a lot of gas in this tank, and I’m not even a hybrid!"

That prompted the only full-throated laugh of the night in the press room. Within minutes came a meme-fest from his own campaign and other supporters in the Democratic party establishment. This is what the California Young Democrats put out:

Supporters of Mike Honda wasted no time turned this quip from the debate into an Internet meme. (Courtesy California Young Democrats)
Supporters of Mike Honda wasted no time turning this quip from the debate into an Internet meme. (Courtesy California Young Democrats)

Khanna used it to his advantage.

"This is what great democracies are about: Someone carries the ball and then hands it off," he said. "That's what keeps this country moving forward."

Whether anyone scored a touchdown in the debate won't be known for another month.

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