Former Democratic Party leader Howard Dean and the progressive group he founded endorsed Rep. Michael M. Honda's reelection bid Tuesday, their first foray into a 2014 congressional contest.
Honda is a seven-term incumbent who represents the Silicon Valley but is facing a well-funded challenge from fellow Democrat Ro Khanna, a former member of President Obama's administration.
In an email to supporters, Dean wrote that he and his organization, Democracy for America, were endorsing Honda because of Honda's track record on issues such as gay rights, abortion and Social Security.
"I rarely endorse candidates in primaries, but Mike Honda is a progressive leader and we need him in Congress," wrote Dean, the former head of the Democratic National Committee. "We support Democrats with backbone, who lead with vision and who fight for core Democratic values. We're working to elect not just any Democrat, but better Democrats. I've known Mike for years -- he's one of the strongest progressives we have in Congress."
Dean did not mention Khanna by name, but he slapped at the 37-year-old, who is backed by tech industry titans such as Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg, Yahoo's Marissa Mayer and Napster co-founder Sean Parker.
"Now Mike is facing a corporate-backed challenger whose big money donors are intent on buying Mike's seat in Congress," Dean wrote, before asking for a $5 donation for his group's efforts to get Democrats elected to Congress.
During the 2012 election cycle, the group spent more than $1.5 million on races.
[Updated 10:50 a.m. PST Dec. 3: A spokesman for Khanna noted that the candidate has pledged not to accept contributions from corporations.
"Unfortunately, this is just another example of the divisive rhetoric that has left hardworking families disillusioned by Congress and yearning for real solutions," said Tyler Law. "The congressman should take this opportunity to break the status quo and embrace Ro's bold reform agenda, which includes rejecting PAC and lobbyist money, pay raises, special-interest-funded travel and the gold-plated congressional pension."]
Honda, 72, has broad support from Democratic elected officials, including Obama, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Joe Biden, who stumped for Honda this year. But former Obama campaign advisors have picked his reelection race as one of a handful of high-priority contests across the nation, saying Silicon Valley needs a fresh, more aggressive representative in Congress.
Deep-pocketed donors have lined up behind Khanna. The most recent financial disclosures show that Khanna had $1.9 million in the bank as of Sept. 30; Honda had a little more than $550,000.