A lawsuit filed Wednesday alleged that Democrat Ro Khanna, who is running to unseat seven-term Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) and represent California’s 17th District, recruited two Republican candidates to split the GOP vote in the June 3 primary for the seat. A Sacramento judge disqualified one candidate but let the other remain on the ballot after a hearing Wednesday afternoon.
The suit, submitted by Alameda County Republican Central Committee member Jeffrey Wald, asked Superior Court Judge Allen Sumner to boot Republicans Joel Vanlandingham and Vinesh Singh Rathore off the ballot. Sumner disqualified Rathore, saying the candidate had failed to submit enough valid nominating signatures.
Vanlandingham and Rathore officially entered the race just before the filing deadline. A third Republican in the primary, Stanford professor and physician Dr. Vanila Singh, kick-started her campaign in January.
California’s 17th District is 44 percent Democratic and 19 percent Republican. The state’s top-two primary system means the two candidates who receive the most votes in the primary face off in the November general election regardless of party affiliation.
The race to represent the district has already drawn national attention as Khanna, who has some of President Barack Obama’s former campaign staffers working for him, puts intraparty pressure on Honda, who has the backing of the president as well as much of California’s Democratic establishment.
Wald suggests in his suit that Singh, who has been identified as an emerging candidate by the National Republican Congressional Committee, is the only legitimate Republican in the race, while Vanlandingham and Rathore were put up to the task of running. Neither Vanlandingham nor Rathore had registered or filed statements of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission.
“Khanna recruited candidates to enter the race as Republicans to split the Republican vote three ways, effectively diluting votes that would otherwise be cast in favor of Singh,” Wald alleged in his suit.
Wald charged that Khanna recruited Rathore, who is Indian-American, because the district has an Asian-American majority and a strong Indian-American presence.
“The addition of Singh Rathore and Vanlandingham, both of whom are running as Republicans, will split the GOP vote, effectively moving Khanna to second place in the top two June 3 Primary Election,” Wald’s lawsuit reads. “The addition of Singh Rathore, another Indian-American, will split the Indian-American vote. In addition, the fact that Singh Rathore has added his middle name on his ballot designation appears to be a clear effort to cause confusion between ‘Vanila Singh’ and ‘Vinesh Singh,’ both of whom are designated as Republicans.”
Wald’s suit also alleged that some of the signatories on the candidates’ petitions to enter the race had signed Khanna’s petition. It is illegal for a voter to sign petitions for two different candidates. The judge cited a failure to submit enough valid nominating signatures when he disqualified Rathore from the race.
Khanna — who served as a trade representative in the Obama administration — “is focused on spreading his forward-looking vision to voters in the 17th District and had nothing to do with anyone entering this race,” spokesman Tyler Law told the San Jose Mercury News on Wednesday.
After the judge disqualified Rathore, Khanna campaign manager Leah Cowan wrote in a statement Thursday that the hearing’s outcome meant Khanna was cleared of any foul play.
“It’s obvious that the defenders of the status quo feel threatened by the momentum behind Ro’s change campaign and now they’ve resorted to old-style political attacks and dirty tricks,” Cowan wrote. “There was never evidence to support the ridiculous claim and it was dismissed yesterday by the judge who examined it.”
In a phone call with The Huffington Post, a spokesman for Honda declined to speculate why Wald brought the suit, but he said in a statement Wednesday that the allegations were “concerning.”
“The contents of this legal action brought by a voter in the district are concerning,” Honda spokesman Vivek Kembaiyan said. “This is a matter for the courts to decide and we hope that there was no foul play involved in the candidates’ recruitment or filing.”
Both Vanlandingham, who is a technology industry job recruiter, and Rathore, who works for Google, pushed back at the lawsuit after it was filed.
“It is painfully obvious that Mr. Ward’s intention is politically motivated and that he is supported by some ‘backroom deal’ with Congressman Mike Honda and the Democratic Party,” Vanlandingham told the Mercury News. “He is using the courts and the tax payer money in hopes of ‘splitting the vote’ and removing any checks and balances put into place by having any Republican candidates in the race. I would ask the court to dismiss this case and not waste any additional time or tax payer money.”
Wald was represented at the hearing by the San Francisco law firm Dhillon Smith. Partner Harmeet Dhillon is vice chairwoman of the California Republican Party.
Khanna — who has received donations from Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, Napster co-founder Sean Parker and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, among others — is running his campaign using sophisticated targeting techniques as he attempts to oust Honda, who is considered one of the more progressive members of Congress.