Silicon Valley Rep. Ro Khanna is staying put—for now
Silicon Valley Congressman Ro Khanna will take on the role of campaign co-chair for longtime East Bay Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who is one of three Democratic candidates running for U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s seat. File photo.

    Silicon Valley Congressman Ro Khanna will remain in the House of Representatives, announcing over the weekend that he will not run for U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s seat, after months of weighing his options.

    Instead, Khanna will take on the role of campaign co-chair for longtime East Bay Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who is one of three Democratic candidates running for the critical Senate seat so far. Khanna told San José Spotlight previously that Lee’s decision to jump into the race would be a factor in whether or not he ran for Feinstein’s seat.

    “I have concluded that despite a lot of enthusiasm from Bernie folks, the best place, the most exciting place, action place, fit place, for me to serve as a progressive is in the House of Representatives,” Khanna said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” show.

    Khanna said he’s endorsing Lee instead of Reps. Adam Schiff and Katie Porter, both Southern California Democrats, because Lee is a “unique voice.” He respects her for voting against the Afghanistan War, voicing opposition to the Iraq War and supporting him in trying to end U.S. involvement in Yemen. He also said representation matters.

    “We don’t have a single African American woman in the United States Senate. She would fill that role,” Khanna said. “She’ll be the only candidate from Northern California, and she is going to, I think, consolidate a lot of progressives. The other two are formidable candidates, but I think Barbara Lee is going to be very, very strong.”

    Khanna is well known and liked in the 17th Congressional District, which includes Sunnyvale, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Milpitas, Newark, Fremont and parts of San Jose. But there could be several reasons behind his decision to not run for the seat, retired San Jose State political science professor Larry Gerston said.

    Lee, who has served in her seat since 1998, reflects and has influenced a lot of Khanna’s own philosophy and values, and is a “foundational” figure in Bay Area progressive politics, Gerston said.

    The competition in the race is also stiff, and the costs and risks are high. Both Schiff and Porter have strong name recognition, along with big campaign war chests of more than $20 million and $7 million, respectively.

    “That’s hard to overlook. In terms of getting the word out, Schiff and Porter have already made forays up to Northern California. Schiff particularly is well known for his role in impeachment and the Jan. 6 hearings,” Gerston said.

    Khanna would also be risking his safe House seat to run in the expensive and competitive Senate race.

    “So you have to make a calculated decision, am I willing to live without my seat, where I would have no say whatsoever? Is the risk worth it?” Gerston said. “You put all those things together and Khanna decided it’s probably not his time.”

    Gerston noted that Khanna, at 46 years old, is still considered young for politics, so he has time to make a bid for a statewide role in the near future—or take a crack at a U.S. Senate seat eight, 10 or 12 years from now.

    Lee could have a shot at making the top two in the 2024 primary race—as Schiff and Porter may split the Southern California votes—and head to a likely November runoff, Gerston said.

    Whoever wins the seat will wield a lot of power, he added, with California having the largest population of any state and a massive economy.

    “The opportunities for somebody in that post are endless. But again, it’s a tough row to hoe, given the cost of running for office in this state which is huge due to its population and size, and the risk you take along the way,” Gerston said. “So whoever winds up with that seat will have earned it, no question about that.”

    Contact Joseph Geha at [email protected] or @josephgeha16 on Twitter.

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