Congressman Ro Khanna has Bowed Out of California Senate Race. But are His Presidential Ambitions Still in Place?
- He endorsed Congresswoman Barbara Lee saying that African American representation in the upper chamber matters.
He may have had a fair chance to become the first Indian American in the United States Senate, but California Congressman Rohit Khanna decided against picking up the gauntlet. On CNN’s State of the Union, Khanna announced that he would not run to replace Sen. Dianne Feinstein and that he is endorsing Congresswoman Barbara Lee for the open seat.
“I have concluded that despite a lot of enthusiasm from Bernie [Sanders] 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, and I’m honored to be co-chairing Barbara Lee’s campaign for the Senate and endorsing her today,” Khanna told host Jake Tapper on the Sunday morning show.
Saying that “representation matters,” Khanna felt that Lee would fill the void of African American representation in the Senate. He also favored her, against two other “formidable candidates” in Reps. Adam Schiff and Katie Porter, because Lee is a strong anti-war candidate. “Barbara Lee is a unique voice. She was the lone vote against the endless war in Afghanistan. She stood up so strongly against the war in Iraq. She worked with me and stopping — trying to stop the war in Yemen and the war powers resolution,” he said.
While all that may be true, it is quite possible that Khanna was also being realistic in assessing his chances of winning the Democratic primary in the largest state in the Union. Not only will it be the most expensive but also the most competitive. While Khanna has carved out a niche in Washington political circles with his policy chops and media savviness, it is not certain if he has statewide grassroots recognition, particularly when compared to Schiff and Lee. Support for his candidacy within the influential Indian American community may not be assured given the fact that he has been critical of the Hindu nationalist Modi government in India. The only thing that probably would have worked in his favor, being a congressman from Silicon Valley, is his ability to raise money. But apparently, that was not enough of a reason to run.
However, it is not clear if his decision has anything to do with his presidential ambitions. While the Philadelphia-born and Yale-educated Khanna often denied his interest in a national race, media reports often mention that he is a likely candidate for the Democratic nomination in the event President Biden decides not to seek reelection. Considered a pragmatic and innovative legislator who works across party lines, Khanna has lent credence to speculations about his presidential ambitions with his visits to Iowa last year, which was then the first state to start off the Democratic primary process.
An Iowa political strategist was quoted in a media report as saying “I would just have to assume that while Ro has been incredibly interested in the great state of Iowa for a number of reasons, that perhaps it had to do with laying the groundwork for any potential future national bids.”
As recently as last December, Politico reported that “Khanna has retained consultants who are veterans of New Hampshire’s primary and Nevada’s. He paid one Iowa firm as well, before the Democratic National Committee made plans to revoke the state’s first-in-the-nation status. He’s also begun to more forcefully draw contrasts with potential political rivals, chief among them transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.”
First elected to Congress in 2016 from California’s 17th congressional district, Khanna was born and raised in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. He earned his undergraduate degree in economics from the University of Chicago and a law degree from Yale Law School. After clerking for a federal judge and a stint in private legal practice, he served in the Department of Commerce during the Obama administration. Khanna lives in Fremont, California, with his wife Ritu Khanna and their two children.