Khanna’s pass clarifies the California Senate race — and his political future

Beyond time, simple math would have been challenging. Porter, Lee and Schiff are all competing for the same limited block of Democratic and independent votes. Two Democrats can advance under California’s primary system, which allows the top two vote-getters to advance to the general.

Progressives are already wary of Lee and Porter splitting the left-leaning vote, which would keep both members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus out of the top two and allow the centrist Schiff to step up and face a publicly doomed Republican (the GOP has yet to field a nominee).

Khanna, California Sen. Bernie Sanders may have further fractured the progressive vote given his position among a sizable constituency of supporters. Khanna co-chaired Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign and said Sunday he heard “enthusiasm from the Bernie people.”

“Had Khanna entered the race, progressives risk splitting the vote three ways and giving Schiff a boost,” said former Sen. said Ross Kapolczynski, a Democratic consultant who worked for Barbara Boxer. “Though Schiff is a progressive by most measures, progressive activists are supporting Porter or Lee.”

Now, some of that Sanders support may flow to Lee, who Khanna endorsed as he bowed out. Lee’s camp is counting on a dynamic progressive platform to carry the East Bay fixture into the top two.

“We need a strong anti-war senator who will fill that role,” Khanna said Sunday morning on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Khanna’s deep Silicon Valley ties could make him a conduit to powerful donors and help Lee offset a steep cash deficit compared to Schiff and Lee, both of whom are prolific fundraisers.

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“Congressman Khanna’s endorsement is a much-needed boost to the race in these early days, but Rep. Lee still presents a steep climb,” Anna Bahr, a consultant who worked for Sanders’ 2020 California campaign, said in a text message. “It’s not easy to keep up with the leaders in the race.”

Few doubt Khanna’s ambition. He primed another Democrat to take his seat in Congress. While seeking to export Silicon Valley’s economic might to the rest of the country, he has become a television fixture touting a progressive agenda, making a case for penetration beyond coastal blue-collar strongholds. He’s a staunch Sanders supporter who gets along comfortably with deep-tech libertarians.

It was the second time Khanna flirted with a Senate run, but decided against it; He decided not to challenge Chen. Alex Padilla When a recently appointed senator ran for a full term. Khanna said on Sunday that he was bowing out of the controversy in part because “there is a very exciting place in the House right now to advance bold and progressive policy.”

He’ll stay there without losing a seat in Congress for a long-term Senate bid. But that doesn’t mean Khanna wants to stay in them forever. Some Sanders supporters have tried to push Khanna to run in 2024, when President Joe Biden won’t seek a second term.

Although Khanna strongly supports Biden, he is widely seen as a future presidential contender. If he gives up his House seat to run for the Senate, that chance will diminish if he loses, leaving him with a platform for policymaking, public opinion and fundraising.

“Ro Canna goes all-out for Barbara Lee and if she makes it into the runoff, that will be a huge asset to her as she pursues other things,” Kapolczynski said. “If you have national aspirations, the fact that he helped elect the only black woman to the Senate is a good speech.”

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