In tight House race, Obama won’t endorse embattled incumbent Honda
"The president is not going to be endorsing in that race," Democratic National Committee spokesman Eric Walker told POLITICO Thursday regarding the 17th Congressional District rematch in the heart of California’s tech capital between the incumbent and his challenger, a former trade representative and attorney. Walker gave no reason for the president’s withdrawal of his past endorsement, which Honda touted in 2014 when he beat Khanna by four percentage points to win re-election.
But sources said it does not reflect an overall policy of the White House, and that the president has made endorsements this year in other Democrat-on-Democrat races, including one in Texas.
In a statement to POLITICO, Honda's campaign manager Michael Beckendorf downplayed the development.
“Congressman Honda has great admiration and respect for President Obama and his service to our country, but we were not expecting the President to get involved in this race," he said in an email. "Congressman Honda has served this area for over three decades and voters know his record of fighting for working families, and where his values lie — unlike our opponent."
Beckendorf cited support from a list of Democrats including House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Attorney General Kamala Harris.
The president’s decision not to endorse Honda comes as the San Jose congressman has faced a House ethics investigation probing allegations that he and his staff have illegally mixed official and campaign business.
The timing of Obama’s decision marks an embarrassing development for Honda as he heads to the California State Democratic Convention in San Jose this weekend. During the three-day confab, expected to draw 3,000, Honda for the first time will have to compete directly with Khanna for the endorsement of the party delegates, after some of the local Democratic grassroots groups in his district stood in the way of his efforts to get the automatic endorsement usually afforded to incumbents.
But the incumbent is still widely expected to get the party’s backing this weekend. To be officially endorsed by the party, Honda will only require support of a simple majority of the voting delegates — many of them hand-picked by elected officials, including himself — while Khanna would need 60 percent of delegates.
Honda, a fixture in Bay Area politics for more than a generation, is facing money troubles as well. The latest campaign finance records show he has $572,000 cash on hand, about a third of what Khanna has, with $1.7 million.
The latest campaign finance filing shows Honda spent most of the $292,000 he raised in the final quarter of 2015, much of it to pay for legal fees, fundraising and crisis communication fees.
UPDATE: This story has been updated with a statement from Honda's campaign.