By most accounts it’s going to be a rough day for America’s Democratic party candidates in today’s midterm elections. But in the race for California’s 17th district—in the heart of Silicon Valley—a Democrat is sure to win.
That foregone conclusion won’t stop the race from being one of the day’s most interesting, though.
A gaggle of tech-industry luminaries—Google’s Eric Schmidt, Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg among them—have helped finance and support the nascent political career of a patent attorney and former commerce department official by the name of Rohit “Ro” Khanna. Today marks the culmination of his effort to unseat Rep. Michael Honda, a fellow Democrat who has represented the district since 2000.
Did the incumbent run afoul of these tech tycoons by taking some sort of unpopular policy stance crucial to the industry? It doesn’t appear that way. As the New York Times reported earlier this year:
A liberal, pro-labor Democrat with a passion for civil rights, Mr. Honda, 72, is generally regarded as being on the side of the tech industry, but not as aggressive a champion as other congressmen in the region.
“The tech community is looking for advocates who will be really, really outspoken for tech, and Ro fits that mold,” said Ron Conway, who is one of the industry’s most influential investors and is backing Mr. Khanna.
With poll numbers narrowing, the tenor of the race has turned pretty nasty. But more broadly, the race underscores an interesting shift in Democratic party constituencies, with the party’s traditional funding base of teachers and labor unions backing Honda (who also has the support of president Obama) while the tech and venture capital industries line up behind Khanna.
The dynamics also speak to the wealth of the district, where household income growth has surged ahead of the country at large, amid the latest tech boom. All that money has to go somewhere. Inevitably, some of it flows into politics.