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Calif. Rep. Mike Honda Survives First Real Challenge to His Incumbency

by Jane Susskind, published

In the race to represent the Silicon Valley, Democratic U.S. Representative Mike Honda is poised to defeat Democratic challenger Ro Khanna in a very close race for California's 17th Congressional District.

Backed by big donors in the Silicon Valley, Khanna ran on the platform that the tech-driven community needed a new perspective to better represent industry needs. Backed by the Democratic Party, Honda touted his experience as his main advantage over the 38 year-old hopeful.

Because California now operates under a nonpartisan, top-two open primary, all candidates and voters, regardless of party affiliation (or lack thereof), participate on a single ballot. The top two vote-getters then advance to the general election. In a district that heavily favors Democratic candidates, like CA-17, this resulted in two Democrats advancing to November’s election.

Democrats, however, do not actually make up the majority in the district -- they make up a plurality. Twenty-eight percent of voters are registered Republicans and 23.1 percent are registered No Party Preference voters.

Therefore, In order to win, Honda was forced to reach outside the Democratic Party and garner support from independent and Republican voters -- voters who had previously been disenfranchised from the electoral process.

Prior to the top-two primary, the highest vote-getter from each party would advance, pitting one Democrat against one Republican in the general election. Since Democrats do make up a plurality of voters, the incumbent didn't need to rely so much on voters outside of his party.

In a safe district, or a congressional district secured by one political party, the competition ends at the primary and the election is decided by a small group of primary voters from one political party.

Despite a loss, Khanna’s rise in the polls and his challenge to the seven-term incumbent is evidence that California’s new primary system has increased competition in California. Honda, who will serve another term in Congress, will now be held accountable for his actions, forcing him to act in the interest of all voters if he wishes to continue to serve the district.

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