For months, Rep. Mike Honda (D-San Jose) has dodged invitations to debate his challenger in the 17th Congressional District race, fellow Democrat Ro Khanna. The incumbent’s waffling on a commitment invoked disapproving editorials from the Bay Area’s major media outlets and a running Twitter hashtag, #WheresMike, that rips his habitual absenteeism in Congress.
But the seven-term congressman may finally have agreed to a debate—it’s just he didn’t consult his opponent on the details.
Huffington Post and San Jose State University are working together to stage the face-to-face match. Honda’s campaign says they agreed to a mid-October date, which a KGO reporter tweeted out Friday, even though it wasn’t confirmed by organizers.
News of the talk-off caught Khanna and most media off-guard. Many wondered how anyone could announce a debate without contacting one candidate. Khanna spokesman Tyler Law also questioned the timing—three weeks ahead of the Nov. 4 election.
“The Honda campaign apparently felt it would be acceptable to hold a debate that a large portion of voters wouldn’t get to see before they cast their ballots,” Law said, noting that vote-by-mail ballots go out Oct. 6.
Honda spokesman Vivek Kembaiyan told San Jose Inside that the campaign received and accepted terms from HuffPo and SJSU. Kembaiyan says he was told the hour-long event would take place either Oct. 14 or 16 and would include: a single moderator with panelists from local press and SJSU faculty, a coin toss to decide order of speakers and questions picked by organizers. Candidates wouldn’t be allowed opening statements but two-minute answers, 90-second rebuttals, maybe one-minute extensions and two-minute closing remarks.
Khanna tweeted to HuffPo Washington Bureau Chief Ryan Grim Friday that he’d be “happy to participate. But be honest and have it before absentee drops instead of enabling Honda games.”
“We can work with that,” Grim tweeted back. “Will get back to you with a date before ballots drop.” Later, he added that Khanna had made “a reasonable request, to be sure.”
San Jose Inside contacted Grim on Monday to find out if there’s a chance the debate will take place before absentee ballots go out. “I hope so,” he said. “We’re still negotiating.”