With less than a week until the midterm election, Democrat Ro Khanna is closing the gap between him and incumbent U.S. Representative Mike Honda in the race for California’s 17th Congressional District -- a race only possible in the newly competitive environment that emerged from the implementation of California's nonpartisan, top-two primary.
As previously reported on IVN, In this district, which encompasses the tech-driven Silicon Valley, both Mike Honda and Ro Khanna are Democrats.
The seven-term incumbent commanded a 20-point lead over Khanna coming out of the primary election, a lead that has since diminished. CBS’s KPIX 5 polling now shows the Democratic candidates in a statistical dead heat with 28 percent of voters undecided.
"It shows the momentum is building,” Khanna said. "The message of change is resonating. People are tired of the old ways of doing things in Washington. They want someone who is going to get things done, who is going to work across the aisle."
“The race is tightening,” Honda said in response. The competitive nature of the race, coupled with the national significance of the Silicon Valley, has made headlines across the state, with the media paying close attention to this once safe district.
"Don’t look now, but a moderate might get elected to Congress next month from California," TIME leads with in their analysis of the Democrat vs. Democrat race. Throughout the article, Jay Newton-Small cites moderation as the intent of California’s reform.
What the mainstream media continues to ignore, however, is the significance California's nonpartisan, top-two primary has on voters.
Prior to the implementation of the nonpartisan, top-two primary, just one member from each political party advanced to the general election. Thus, the general election was almost always a battle between one Democrat and one Republican. In a district with demographics that heavily favor one party, like Congressional District 17, the candidate advancing from the favored political party was almost guaranteed victory in the general election.
Under the old primary system, Honda would cruise to victory in November without having to actually campaign for the general election. The competition that is occurring today between Khanna and Honda would have occurred back in the June primary, when a smaller, more partisan group of voters participate.
Today, every vote in November’s general election matters. Every person in Congressional District 17 matters, because the “D" next to a candidate's name no longer ensures victory.
In CA-17, non-Democratic voters make up the majority of the electorate, with 28.2 percent registered Republicans and 23.1 percent registered No Party Preference voters. To win, Khanna and Honda need to receive votes from people outside their political party -- they have to talk to independent and Republican voters.
This is exactly what Ro Khanna has done, pulling himself up from a 20-point deficit in the polls. He shifted his campaign strategy to include all voters in his district, not just those who share his political ideals.
Khanna held over 200 town halls, inviting citizens of all political affiliations. He knocked on the doors of Republicans, Democrats, and No Party Preference voters. In doing so, he has forced Mike Honda to do the same.
Win or lose, Khanna’s rise in the polls is further evidence that incumbency no longer guarantees victory in California. A person's party label is not as important as his or her ability to appeal to all voters in their district. It proves that California’s nonpartisan, top two primary has increased competition in California.