SAN JOSE -- Not only will former Obama administration official Ro Khanna challenge Rep. Mike Honda in 2014 for a seat serving a big chunk of Silicon Valley -- he'll also use some of the president's prime campaign staffers to do it.
Khanna will announce his candidacy Tuesday. The race offers the Bay Area -- long known for glacial turnover among entrenched House Democrats -- its second consecutive high-profile dogfight picked by a young upstart. This time, there's the added dimension of two Asian-American Democrats facing off in the continental United States' first Asian-American majority district.
Last year, Eric Swalwell, then 31, unseated 20-term incumbent Pete Stark in part thanks to Stark miffing even some longtime supporters with a series of public gaffes. The genial Honda, 71, lacks Stark's irascibility and isn't likely to repeat his missteps. So experts say the 36-year-old Khanna, who last year decided not to take on Stark, has a tougher row to hoe in the 17th Congressional District.
"In order for Khanna to win, Honda's probably going to have to open the door for him. So far it looks like he's working hard to close that door," said Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, an expert on House elections. "Khanna is going to have to run an exceptionally strong race to win."
He'll have help: a campaign team worthy of a two-term president, even though that president already endorsed Honda.
"What happens there in Silicon Valley matters to the rest of the country," said Jeremy Bird, Khanna's general campaign consultant, who last year was Obama's national field director.
"Ro is going to run a 21st-century campaign that takes the lessons learned from both the Obama campaigns," with deep data analysis, a big social-media drive, block-by-block organizing and more, Bird said.
Khanna campaign chairman Steve Spinner, a tech executive and investor who was an Obama fundraising "bundler" and Energy Department stimulus adviser, said he wants "someone who lives and breathes the issues that we deal with in Silicon Valley" to represent the region in Congress.
Khanna's team also includes Larry Grisolano, Obama's ad-buying chief; Mark Beatty, Obama's deputy battleground states director; and a pair of Obama field operatives who worked in hard-fought North Carolina.
Honda released a statement Monday that said: "I've taken every one of my campaigns seriously and this will be no different. I'm grateful for the early support I've received, from President Obama to local leaders across the district, and I'm looking forward to our strongest campaign yet in 2014."
Honda's campaign says its polling data shows Honda receiving support from 57 percent of likely voters, compared to 5 percent for Khanna, and that Khanna is unknown to 86 percent of voters.
Speculation about Khanna's political future has swirled since he raised an eye-popping $1.2 million in 2011's last quarter but didn't run in 2012. Many thought he wanted Stark's seat, but Khanna's papers never specified his target.
Lately, it's been the region's worst-kept political secret that he was sizing up Honda, who reacted with a cavalcade of early, high-ranking endorsers -- including Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi -- apparently to scare Khanna off before entering the race, or at least to poison his well.
Khanna said his team's "hope and change" roster fits the stakes. "This is one of the most important districts in the country when it comes to innovation and economic growth," he said. "It matters for the future of the country, for the future of the world."
Khanna casts himself as not only for Silicon Valley but of Silicon Valley. Working as a deputy assistant secretary of commerce from 2009 to 2011 and since then at the valley's biggest law firm, while also teaching economics at Stanford and law at Santa Clara University, gives him an edge in knowing how to nurture the high-tech sector, he said.
Don't expect Khanna and Honda to differ much on social issues like abortion rights or same-sex marriage. The race instead might hinge on issues like capital-gains taxes, corporate profit repatriation and tech job-skills education, as Honda -- a hero to labor and progressives -- battles Khanna for tech-sector money and votes.
Courting diverse Asian-American voters could be key. Khanna's fundraising blitz was replete with Indo-American donors. Honda is the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus' chairman emeritus.
Khanna had about $1 million at 2012's end while Honda had about $78,000, but Honda has had the past three months to himself to raise money. The second quarter, from Monday through June 30, will be the first in which they're both shaking the money trees as rivals -- and might portend who has the edge.
However fat the bankroll, toppling an incumbent was harder before California adopted a "top-two" primary system; Khanna learned this by winning only 20 percent against Rep. Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo, in 2004's partisan primary.
Now he need only finish second behind Honda in June 2014 in order to go mano-a-mano with him in November. Then he can try to engage a wider range of voters: There's plenty of room to Honda's right, so a coalition of moderate Democrats, Republicans and nonpartisan voters could spell victory.
Residence: San Jose
Occupation: Congressman since 2000
Past experience: State assemblyman, 1996-2000; Santa Clara County supervisor, 1990-96; 30 years as educator (teacher, school board member, principal); Peace Corps, 1965-67
Education: Bachelor's in biological science and Spanish (1968) and master's in education (1974), San Jose State University
Occupation: Attorney for Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati; visiting lecturer in economics, Stanford University; adjunct professor, Santa Clara University School of Law
Past experience: Deputy Assistant U.S. Secretary of Commerce, 2009-2011; attorney, O'Melveny & Myers, 2004-2009
Education: Bachelor's in economics (1998), University of Chicago; law degree (2001), Yale Law School
Khanna's campaign team looks like Obama redux
General consultant Jeremy Bird -- Obama 2012's national field director
Campaign chairman Steve Spinner -- Obama 2012 fundraising "bundler" and national finance committee member
Campaign manager Leah Cowan -- Obama 2012 regional field director in North Carolina's capital region
Organizing director Anthony Nagataini -- Obama 2012's field director in Charlotte, N.C.
Consultant Larry Grisolano -- Obama's paid-media director in 2008 and 2012, managing TV, radio, Internet, direct mail and print advertising
Consultant John Kupper -- message/ad consultant to Obama's 2004 Senate and 2008 presidential campaigns; still advises Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama's former White House chief-of-staff, since helping him win office in 2011
Consultant David Binder -- prominent Democratic pollster and statistical analyst who did work for Obama's 2008 campaign
Consultant Lynda Tran -- was communications director for National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the Obama administration; earlier, national press secretary of Organizing for America, a Democratic National Committee project that mobilizes Obama supporters on president's legislative priorities.
Consultant Mark Beatty -- Obama 2012's deputy battleground states director