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Who’ll Win the Year’s Biggest Political Rematch?

Vote Trek II: The Wrath of Khanna.

Ro Khanna (left) and Mike Honda.



Editor's Note: This is one of many stories about politics that San Francisco is publishing over the next month, all part of the October 2016 Democracy Issue. To peruse the rest of the issue's contents, and to read stories as they become available online, click here.

Sequels are not just for Iron Man anymore. In the 2014 general election, incumbent congressman Mike Honda fended off fellow Democrat Ro Khanna, a former Obama administration official, to represent Silicon Valley, a seat he’s held since 2001. Undeterred, Khanna decided to stage a rematch this November. The race has tightened: Honda lost the June primary by two percentage points.

Congressional rematches happen more often than you might expect. The South Bay contest is one of more than a dozen House races that pit an incumbent against a challenger defeated in 2014. Aside from Honda-Khanna II, our favorite might be the Minnesota race in which Republican Stewart Mills III cut the Fabio-esque locks that caused his opponent to brand him a rich playboy. 

In some cases, a rematch is good politics for the challenger. In losing, major-party candidates often gain greater name recognition and familiarity with local issues. Shortly after the 2014 midterm elections, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee tried to entice five candidates who had lost to make bids for the same seats, and three of them said yes, in large part because these rematches can pay off. Take Ami Bera, a Democrat who represents a district east of Sacramento. He lost his first race against incumbent Dan Lungren in 2010 before winning in 2012. (Fittingly, he narrowly turned back a challenge in 2014 from the Republican who had represented the area from 1999 to 2005.) 

To be fair, there are also people who can’t take the hint, like a pro-Trump Democrat running in a heavily Republican Indiana district who has failed in at least seven previous bids for state or local office. So is the Khanna-Honda rematch more like Aliens or Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel? Well, this time around, Honda faces a House ethics investigation. For his part, Khanna has worked to shed the tech-bro image that dogged him last time, focusing on local issues like a Cupertino cement factory.

However it works out, we sure hope there won’t be a third go-round. We all know how The Godfather Part III turned out.


Originally published in the October issue of San Francisco

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