The Upstarts: Two Calif. Congressional Candidates Put New Faces on Old Parties

In the current political climate, new policy ideas are often stifled in favor of political entrenchment. As a result, candidates rarely challenge the ideas of their party, choosing partisanship over policy innovation. Yet in California, two candidates, one Republican and one Democrat, are challenging the norms of their party and grabbing national headlines doing so.

Ro Khanna is challenging fellow Democrat Mike Honda for California’s 17th district. Mike Honda was first elected to Congress in 2000 as a representative of California’s 15th District. He was elected as representative of the 17th district in 2012 after the redistricting produced by the 2010 census took effect. In its 2013 annual vote ratings, The National Journal ranked Honda the most liberal member of the House.

Both Khanna and DeMaio have embraced congressional reform ideas aimed at ending the revolving door of legislators and lobbyists.
Andy Smith
His campaign has focused heavily on policy areas such as economic innovation and congressional reform. Though Honda has the backing of much of the Democratic establishment, including an endorsement from President Barack Obama, Khanna is backed by some of Silicon Valley’s most prominent executives. As a result, the campaign has come to represent a newer generation of Democrats challenging the old establishment.

In Southern California, a different congressional campaign is also challenging old party norms. Carl DeMaio, an openly gay Republican, is running a strong campaign in California’s 52nd district. Like Khanna, DeMaio’s campaign highlights congressional reform.

Both Khanna and DeMaio have embraced congressional reform ideas aimed at ending the revolving door of legislators and lobbyists, and restricting taxpayer-funded travel for congressmen. DeMaio’s plan, titled “Fix Congress First,” also includes provisions such as “No Budget, No Pay,” and “Prohibit Congressional Retaliation Against Whistleblowers.”

Like Khanna, DeMaio also breaks from his party on several key issues. On social issues, DeMaio’s campaign embraces a hands-off policy, arguing that the government should focus on issues like the budget and the economy, not social issues.

The campaigns of both Khanna and DeMaio represent new movements within their respective parties to update these organizations in the wake of the political changes of recent years. As a result, both candidates face attacks from members of their own parties.

DeMaio is consistently labeled a RINO by Republicans, while Democrats have gone so far as to fund Mike Honda’s Republican challenger in order to prevent Khanna from moving past the primary. Despite the attacks, there has been considerable mobilization around the candidates, as many Republican and Democratic voters look for new policy alternatives.