It's a Silicon Valley version of a pitch many primary challengers make across the country every two years. But here, Khanna can use it to try to appeal to not only Democrats potentially disaffected with Honda but to non-Democratic voters who might not normally vote for someone with Khanna's Democratic issue profile or in a Democratic primary.
Honda denied the charge in an interview, reeling off a list of local agencies and companies he'd met with privately that week to discuss new legislation. "I've had a good couple of meetings, working with the constituents and different groups" on tech issues, Honda said in an interview at his campaign headquarters.
"I just have to let people know I have a long history in this valley, a long list of accomplishments"—part of the reason he's been able to count on broader support so far in the race. Honda got 48 percent in the June primary to Khanna's 28 percent.
Honda laughed off Khanna's comment about falling out of touch. "I'm glad they say I used to be, because at least they acknowledge I was!"
Part of the problem in getting traction against incumbents in these top-two matchups is that even though candidates like Khanna technically get the opportunity to appeal to the whole electorate, not just party loyalists in a primary, there's evidence from 2012 that other voters aren't always interested in getting involved. Paul Mitchell, a California political consultant, did statistical analyses to track what he calls "cross-party dropoff" in the last election. In, say, a legislative race featuring two Democrats, "the number of Republicans in a precinct is clearly positively correlated with the number of voters who just don't cast a vote in that race," Mitchell said.
Khanna's campaign, which employs a number of Obama's former strategists, has spent significant money to build a voter model along the lines of what the Obama campaign used to identify and track likely supporters in 2012. The challenger is competing hard for Democratic votes, too, even as Honda and allies including organized labor and progressive groups try to beat him back, but Khanna's also chasing voters—in the mail, on the phone, and especially in person—like the ones who tended to drop off in races like his two years ago. That's not a decision everyone in his position is making.
"There's a potential long-term effect of this" drop-off pattern, Mitchell said. "Campaigns are realizing, in a world of limited resources, do we even go for these cross-party voters if we know one-third won't be voting at all? "... That makes it really hard to spend money organizing those cross-party voters, which then, long-term, gets people away from voting that way."
The day after Khanna's neighborhood canvass, he held a town-hall meeting featuring another Republican supporter, Newark Mayor Dave Smith, in the East Bay. "He will be responsive to you," Smith told attendees. "You may or may not agree with him, but you'll at least have a choice." Whether people who disagree with Khanna on some issues still choose to vote this fall will go a long way toward determining if Khanna gets the chance.