Two Indian-Americans Run Against Incumbent in California

by Rishika Reddy

Democrat Ro Khanna and Republican Vanila Singh are running to unseat longtime U.S. Rep Mike Honda, a Japanese-American, in California’s 17th District seated in the middle of the tech industry. The 17th District is one of the two districts in the country composed of majority Asian Americans.

While Honda, 72, the seven-term incumbent continues to have the support of the Democratic establishment, he is also one of the only incumbents in the House in danger of losing his position. Changes in California’s open primary system have given hope to Khanna, and Singh to run against the longtime incumbent.

Ro Khanna, 37, a graduate of Yale Law School, who specializes in intellectual property, served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary in the United States Department of Commerce under President Barack Obama.

Ro Khanna
Democrat Candidate Ro Khanna

Vanila Singh, 43, is a clinical associate professor at Stanford School of Medicine’s Pain Management Center in the Department of Anesthesia. Singh is the second Indian-American physician to enter California politics, the other being U.S. Rep. Ami Bera.

Age has been a factor in this race since it’s in the heart of the Silicon Valley. Khanna has the support of tech leaders like Facebook’s Sheryl Sandbery, and Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer. This support led Khanna in surpassing Honda in fundraising almost $2.5 million to $1.9 million as of April.

Unlike Honda, Khanna has not accepted money from political action committees, but has the support of the tech industry. While Honda is well known to be involved in human rights issues, he is considered to be an outsider in the tech industry. This is where Khanna is seen to have an advantage due his age and his law practice.

The race between Honda and Khanna has caught national attention due to the factor of demographics. The race is unique in showcasing the potential role Asian-Americans can play as the country’s fastest growing group. According to Ronald Wong, a campaign consultant who heads Imprenta Communication Group, Asian-American voters tent to vote for those who are part of their ethnic subgroup.

Not only is California’s 17th congressional district home to more Asian-Americans than any other district, but it is also home to the largest Indian-American population in the country. The Indian population alone has grown 87 percent since 2000. This race is particularly challenging and interesting along ethnic lines because according to the Pew Research Center, Asian-Americans are least likely to vote in midterm elections. The primaries are going to be held on June 3, and will decide who will compete in the November elections.

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