South Bay Voters 'Give the New Guy a Chance,' Elect Ro Khanna to Congress

Democratic challenger Ro Khanna and Rep. Mike Honda shake hands after their general election debate in 2014. (John Green/Bay Area News Group)

This post has been updated with information about Honda's expected concession to Khanna.

Attorney Ro Khanna Tuesday night finally unseated fellow Democrat Mike Honda for the South Bay congressional seat he has held for eight terms.

Khanna said his narrow loss to Honda in 2014 made him appreciate his eventual victory even more.

“It humbles you," he said. "You know what it’s like to be knocked down. You know what it’s like to be an underdog.”

Khanna addressed hundreds of supporters at the Royal Palace Banquet Hall in Fremont election night. He said the nearly 17-point lead over Honda early Wednesday showed voters were ready to “give the new guy a chance.”

Ro Khanna with wife Ritu Khanna at the Royal Palace in Fremont on election night.
Ro and Ritu Khanna address supporters at the Royal Palace Banquet Hall in Fremont on election night. (Beth Willon/KQED)

“I think I’ve got a lot to prove," he said. "I’ve got to work really hard, come back to the district and not take a single vote for granted.”

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At Justin’s Restaurant in Santa Clara, Honda appeared at peace as he acknowledged that he'd lost the race. He's expected to call Khanna to concede sometime today. Honda was watching the presidential election returns with a large group of supporters and said he knows how Hillary Clinton must be feeling.

“I think we ran a pretty good campaign, a vigorous one," Honda said. "Watching the national elections, I’m not sure it’s a localized phenomenon.”

Eight-term congressman Honda and Khanna, an attorney and former U.S. Commerce Department official, have been bitter rivals for the 17th Congressional District seat since 2014. During two election cycles, their campaigns turned progressively nastier.

Khanna beat Honda by 1.7 percentage points during the June primary, when the top two voter-getters proceeded to the November general election. That was a far cry from the outcome in the June 2014 primary, when Khanna was 20 points behind Honda. Khanna lost by just 3.5 points in the 2014 general election.

The 17th Congressional District -- which includes Fremont, Sunnyvale, Cupertino, Newark, Milpitas, Santa Clara and North San Jose -- is home to tech giants Tesla, Google, Apple, Cisco and others. It also has a large population of voters from India, China, the Philippines, Japan, Vietnam and Pakistan.

Throughout this campaign, Khanna hit Honda hard on the House Committee on Ethics investigation over allegations that Honda mixed campaign and government business and gave top donors improper favors, such as fast-tracking visas. The outcome of that investigation is still pending.

But in September the ethics issues turned on Khanna. Honda filed a lawsuit alleging Khanna's then-campaign manager, Brian Parvizshahi, hacked his donor emails. Parvizshahi previously worked as an intern for a political consulting firm employed by Honda in 2012. He resigned from the Khanna campaign four hours after the lawsuit was filed.

Mike Honda watched national election returns Tuesday night at Justin's Restaurant in Santa Clara before calling Ro Khanna to concede.
Mike Honda watched national election returns Tuesday night at Justin's Restaurant in Santa Clara before calling Ro Khanna to concede. (Beth Willon/KQED)

In court documents the former campaign manager admitted he still had access to the emails, looked at them but never downloaded them. Khanna said he had no knowledge of a database breach.

During an October court hearing in San Jose, federal judge Edward Davila had both sides work out an arrangement in which Honda would get to see the entire database of emails used by his opponent's campaign.

Until the ethics issues hit, the race had been a generational contrast between two Democrats who don't differ much on the issues. Honda, 74, highlighted his experience working in Washington, D.C., while the 40-year-old Khanna counted on support from younger voters who might not know or care about Honda's history.