Is 'outsourcing' campaign mailer against Ro Khanna a low blow?

Is 'outsourcing' campaign mailer against Ro Khanna a low blow?
Democratic challenger Ro Khanna canvasses a Sunnyvale, Calif., neighborhood in April, seeking support for his campaign to unseat incumbent Rep. Mike Honda, a fellow Democrat. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Racial politics have roared to life in a congressional race in Northern California, after mailers were sent to district residents accusing a candidate of Indian ancestry — prominently pictured on the mailers — of planning to "outsource our jobs."

The target, former Obama administration official Ro Khanna, is challenging fellow Democrat and veteran congressman Mike Honda in Tuesday's primary election for the San Jose-area seat.


Already the campaign had some level of sibling drama, with President Obama and senior Democrats endorsing Honda while former Obama campaign strategists worked for Khanna. Separately, an independent campaign sympathetic to the Democratic incumbent has been working to boost Republican candidate Vanila Singh into the November runoff, figuring that she would make for an easier take-down than the well-financed Khanna. (The top two finishers, regardless of party, advance to the runoff.)

But the mailers, sent out in the week before the election by the same pro-Honda independent expenditure group, have injected a sour and sensitive note into the closely fought campaign.

"Don't let Ro Khanna outsource our jobs," one mailer blares, a picture of the challenger running across more than one-third of the page. "Sending jobs overseas," it says on the other side.

Under the category of "outsourcing jobs overseas," the mailer asserts that "Khanna wants to lower taxes on corporate overseas profits, which encourages companies to create jobs abroad rather than here at home."

The 2011 San Jose Mercury News article that is cited as a source for that assertion, however, states the opposite. Tech groups have long argued that higher taxes cause companies to keep jobs overseas, and Khanna, the article said, favored a program in which "some of the money is invested in expansions on American turf in exchange for a lower tax rate for overseas cash."

"There should be some linkage to investment to create jobs and bringing back dollars at a reduced corporate tax," he said at the time.

Notably, Honda holds a similar position to the one the mailer attributes to Khanna mailer. Vivek Kembaiyan, a Honda spokesman, said the lawmaker would agree to lower taxes on overseas money if that was "part of a larger framework of progressive economic policies."

(Asked about the ad, a Honda supporter later forwarded a copy of a 2004 article in India Abroad in which Khanna was quoted as calling the outsourcing of jobs "an economic reality," adding, "If you look at the job loss, much of it is attributable to the recession and not as much to outsourcing. We have to look at long-term solutions and create jobs here.")

But the question is whether the mailer was intended to delineate policy positions or, rather, to play on racial turf. With the large and repeated placement of Khanna's picture, the mailer appears intent on linking his Indian heritage with outsourcing — and doing so in a tech-dominated district where outsourcing to places such as India has long been a tender issue.

That was the claim made by Khanna's campaign when it accused the independent group, Working for Us PAC, of making "racially coded attacks" against him.

"Congressman Honda's continued refusal to hear the voices of those who have been hurt by this stereotyping sends a clear message about the communities that he will, and will not, stand up for," the campaign said.

Working for Us is funded almost solely by organized labor, which has been a strong supporter of Honda. Messages left with the organization were not returned.

Through his campaign, Honda declined to denounce the mailer.

"We have nothing to do with those mailers, and we're focused on what we have to do," his spokesman Kembaiyan said. "We're not going to be talking about what other groups or other people are going to do."