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California Congressman Wakes Up To Tough Re-Election Fight

Rep. Mike Honda speaks during the Fremont Legislative Brunch at Tesla Motors in California in May.
Jeff Chiu
Rep. Mike Honda speaks during the Fremont Legislative Brunch at Tesla Motors in California in May.

As a general workplace rule, it's never a good idea to fall asleep on the job. That's especially true if you're a member of Congress.

But Democratic Rep. Mike Honda of California's 17th District nevertheless appears to have been caught twice on camera dozing off in public recently — once at a town hall meeting and another time on the House floor.

Honda is far from the first member of Congress caught napping on the job. And the congressman's communications director has explained Honda was not sleeping in either instance — the 72-year-old often closes his eyes when he's thinking.

Still, the optics could prove problematic for the seven-term congressman, who is in the middle of the toughest battle of his political career.

Honda typically sails to re-election — aside from his first race, he's never earned less than 65 percent of the vote. But in 2014, Honda faces a Democratic primary challenge from a formidable — and considerably younger — foe in 37-year-old Ro Khanna, a former deputy assistant secretary in the Commerce Department under President Obama.

Largely thanks to the support he's received from technology industry leaders — the newly drawn district is now home to the heart of Silicon Valley — Khanna is enjoying an early financial advantage in the race. He had roughly $1.9 million cash on hand at the end of September to Honda's $560,000 — no small feat for a challenger.

Khanna, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2004, has also brought on several top Obama campaign officials to his team, including 2012 national field director Jeremy Bird.

The Democratic establishment is sticking behind Honda, though. Obama, Vice President Biden, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel have all endorsed him.

While Khanna, an Indian-American, is tapping the resources of his allies in Silicon Valley, Honda has deep ties to the Asian-American community, which makes up half of the district's population.

Honda and Khanna will face off in California's June 3 "jungle" primary, where the top two vote-getters will move on to the general election regardless of party affiliation. The district is a Democratic stronghold, and the two are the favorites to advance and go head-to-head again in November.

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Adam Wollner
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