Capitol Alert

Kevin de León endorses Ro Khanna in South Bay congressional race

Ro Khanna greets supporters at his campaign headquarters in Santa Clara on Nov. 4, 2014.
Ro Khanna greets supporters at his campaign headquarters in Santa Clara on Nov. 4, 2014. San Jose Mercury News

The intraparty slugfest last year between Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, and intellectual property lawyer Ro Khanna ended with Honda winning an eighth term in Congress by fewer than 5,000 votes.

Now Khanna is taking another stab at the 17th Congressional District seat, which wraps around the southeast portion of the San Francisco Bay, and aiming to peel off some of the Democratic establishment support that buoyed Honda in 2014. On Thursday, he unveiled an endorsement from state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, who praised Khanna’s “commitment to grassroots organizing.”

“Not only is he bringing more people into the political process,” de León said in a statement, “but I know his commitment to ground-up power will ensure his office stays in touch with the needs of the people he represents, and not just wealthy donors and the special interests.”

With his endorsement, de León is promoting a challenger favored by the tech community over the incumbent supported by organized labor, one of de León’s closest allies.

The 2014 race was a costly and frequently hostile affair: Khanna, who worked for two years in the Commerce Department under President Barack Obama, spent $4.4 million to unseat Honda, raising large sums of money from Silicon Valley companies and executives. Honda, a veteran of Bay Area politics for more than three decades, countered with a $3.4 million campaign and endorsements from dozens of Democratic leaders including Obama and Gov. Jerry Brown. Outside groups put in another $900,000.

Honda campaign spokesman Adam Alberti said he expected those same backers would “gather in force” for Honda next year.

“There is no doubt that our opponent is desperate in his attempts to find Democratic support for his candidacy,” Alberti said. “Here in the Silicon Valley, the congressman enjoys near universal support of the Democratic establishment and labor, as well progressive organizations across the district.”

The rematch is sure to be another brawl; the personal attacks began again even before Khanna formally announced his candidacy in May. But there will be a new dynamic at play this time: Honda is currently under investigation for allegedly breaking House ethics rules by using his congressional staff and other official resources to do campaign work.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff