Her name isn't on the ballot, but Manorama Joshi has suddenly become one of the most intriguing people in the Bay Area's hottest congressional race this year.

The Newark woman is at the heart of a controversy over Republican candidate Joel Vanlandingham's last-minute entry in the race -- perhaps as a foil for well-funded Democrat Ro Khanna in his bid to unseat incumbent Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, as some critics claim.

Early on, Joshi appeared to be a fervent Khanna supporter.

Manorama K. Joshi signed Khanna's nomination petition in early February. She also gave $351 to Khanna's campaign last May, Federal Election Commission records show. A photo from a May 3 Khanna fundraiser, published in the India Post, depicts her with Khanna, and a more recent edition of that newspaper pictures Joshi again at another Khanna event held Feb. 23.

Pictured is Joel Vanlandingham, candidate for the 17th Congressional district seat currently represented by Mike Honda. Vanlandingham is one of the
Pictured is Joel Vanlandingham, candidate for the 17th Congressional district seat currently represented by Mike Honda. Vanlandingham is one of the Republican challengers to Honda, who is also being challenged by fellow Democrat Ro Khanna. (Courtesy Joel Vanlandingham)

But just a few weeks later, "Manorama J. Kumar," whose address is the same as Joshi's, collected and submitted almost a third -- 14 of 48 -- of Vanlandingham's nominating petition signatures from Alameda County.

An intercom system at that Cedar Boulevard apartment complex lists the occupant's name as "Joshi." Asked through the intercom to discuss the race Tuesday, the occupant replied, "No, I don't want to talk to anybody, thank you."

Vanlandingham, a tech industry job recruiter from San Jose, said he doesn't know her.

When asked why someone who attended Khanna's fundraisers and signed the Democrat's petition would suddenly work to get him on the ballot, Vanlandingham replied, "The only thing I can guess is that she changed her mind."


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The mystery has intensified the intrigue in a race that has made national headlines ever since Khanna, a former Obama administration official, launched his campaign one year ago Wednesday to unseat the seven-term incumbent Honda in a district that's both the heart of Silicon Valley and the first Asian-American majority district outside Hawaii.

When Republican Vanila Singh entered the race in January, analysts said it could help Honda by stripping Khanna of GOP votes in June's top-two primary election. In fact, a poll in February found Singh -- largely by dint of her party -- had leapfrogged slightly ahead of Khanna.

But then Republican Vanlandingham stepped forward. Political analysts say that having multiple Republicans in the race might split the district's small GOP base, helping Khanna surpass the Republican candidates in June and go one-on-one with Honda in November.

"This evidence that Ro Khanna's supporters actively worked to get a Republican on the ballot is really troubling," Honda campaign manager Doug Greven said Wednesday. "The voters deserve answers from Ro Khanna."

Leah Cowan, Khanna's campaign manager, said Wednesday that Khanna has met Joshi "a few times but has never spoken to her for more than a few seconds. He only learned about her involvement in another campaign when he read about it last week and he feels bad that she's being maligned for political reasons."

In an op-ed published online Wednesday by India-West, Khanna lashed out: "Some party operatives have engaged in the worst form of racial stereotyping, assuming that every Indian American living in the Bay Area must be a part of my campaign," he wrote. "Could it not be that Indian Americans have enough judgment and independence to support candidates based on their own values?"

Vanlandingham said Joshi was recruited by his campaign adviser, a Hindu, Indo-American man whom he refused to identify lest there be backlash from the mostly Democratic Indo-American community. "He asked me to keep that confidential," Vanlandingham said.

But Singh points to a prominent local Indo-American she says is behind the Joshi-Vanlandingham gambit: Romesh Japra, chairman of the Fremont Hindu Temple, where Joshi serves on the board. Japra is also a staunch Khanna supporter and a former family friend of Singh.

Japra and his wife, Sunita, have given $7,400 to Khanna's campaign since 2011. Japra said Wednesday he's not aware of Joshi's personal political activity and doesn't know how or why Vanlandingham became a candidate, but he acknowledged he's doing "everything in my capacity" to help Khanna's campaign.

Singh said she has seen Japra and Khanna together at various public and private events in recent months, and claims that at one point she heard Khanna supporters intended to run another Republican into the race.

Federal law prohibits tax-exempt nonprofits such as the temple from participating or intervening in political campaigns.

Japra's e-mail invitation to the Feb. 23 fundraiser he hosted for Khanna carried the temple's logo, a notification of the temple's tax-exempt nonprofit status, and a footer saying the message came from the temple. Still, Japra insisted Wednesday that the invitation had been sent from his personal email.

Last week, an Alameda County Republican committeeman represented by the law firm of California Republican Party Vice Chairwoman Harmeet Dhillon asked a Sacramento County Superior Court judge to kick Vanlandingham and another last-minute GOP candidate -- Vinesh Singh Rathore -- off the ballot due to petition irregularities. The judge gave Rathore the boot based on signature irregularities in Santa Clara County but didn't act on Vanlandingham because neither he nor the Alameda County registrar was able to attend the hearing on short notice.

However, the judge did say no state law prohibits "the fact that one circulator signed a nomination paper for candidate A and then circulated for candidate B."

Khanna summed it up in his op-ed piece: "The current campaign for Congress has turned ugly."

Josh Richman covers politics. Contact him at 510-208-6428. Follow him at Twitter.com/josh_richman. Read the Political Blotter at IBAbuzz.com/politics.