The showdown for Silicon Valley's coveted congressional seat grows pricier and pricier as Rep. Mike Honda tries to keep up with his Democratic challenger who finished the year with three times more cash than the seven-term incumbent.
Ro Khanna, 37, a former Obama administration official from Fremont, raised about $402,000 in the last quarter of 2013, while Honda, D-San Jose, raised about $250,000. Khanna finished the year with $1.97 million cash on hand, while Honda had $622,000 in the bank. If they spend all they've raised, this could rank among the nation's most expensive House contests.
The Honda-Khanna showdown is among the nation's most closely watched intraparty races, pitting two Asian-Americans against each other in the continental United States' first majority Asian-American district. Each hopes to prove he's a better bet for Silicon Valley's tech economy and working families.
"It's a little uncommon for a House primary challenger to have such a big cash-on-hand edge over an incumbent as the election year starts," said Kyle Kondik, a politics expert at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
Honda's bankroll "is still fairly decent, though, and Khanna still has a challenge in persuading voters to go against the incumbent," Kondik said. "That said, if he comes up with an effective, winning argument, he certainly will have the resources to communicate that message."
Dr. Vanila Singh, a Republican, entered the race this month. Singh, 43, of Fremont, said last week she had raised $100,000 in her campaign's first five days, but a spokesman later said that included $25,000 from Singh's own pocket.
The candidates have not yet filed reports with the Federal Election Commission -- they have until Jan. 31 to do so -- so their claims could not be independently confirmed Monday.
Larry Gerston, a San Jose State University political expert, said "almost any incumbent this year needs to be worried, there's so much disgruntlement among the American public.
"That said, this election is anything but a done deal for anyone, especially someone who just has a bunch of money -- we know money alone does not win an election," he added, noting Honda is staunchly supported by labor unions and so will have boots on the ground for which fundraising doesn't account.
Khanna outraised Honda in 2013's first three quarters, too. Earlier, Khanna raised $1.2 million in 2011's last quarter but chose not to challenge Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, who was later defeated by Democrat Eric Swalwell. Three donors who gave to Khanna during that time and for that race asked for refunds last week, saying they support Honda; Khanna's campaign refused their requests.
Khanna and Singh are challenging Honda, 72, in June's "top-two" primary, in which all candidates of all parties compete head-to-head and the top two vote-getters advance to the November general election regardless of party. The 17th Congressional District's voter registration is 44.4 percent Democrat, 31.5 percent nonpartisan and 18.9 percent Republican, making it unlikely Singh could surpass either Democrat to finish first or second in June.