Khanna, a well-funded challenger running against Honda in a Silicon Valley district, is calling on Honda to debate him at least four times between now and California's all-party primary in early June.
Honda has the backing of most of the Democratic political establishment, with endorsements from President Obama, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and much of California's congressional delegation. But Khanna has the backing of some top former Obama campaign staffers as well as a number of Silicon Valley power players, including Yahoo's Marissa Mayer and Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg.
Khanna and Honda are likely to face off in two separate elections due to California's unusual primary system: All candidates, regardless of party, will contest one election in June, and the top two vote getters will then have a showdown in November. That gives Khanna more of a chance in the heavily Democratic district, because he can build a coalition of Republicans, independents and Democrats.
Debate challenges are a common tactic of underdogs.
If the incumbent agrees, it gives the lesser-known candidate a chance to get more exposure and introduce themselves to voters, and creates more chances for the incumbent to commit a gaffe. If the incumbent refuses, the opponent can score points by saying they're scared to debate. Honda's campaign released polling early on showing him with a huge lead, though there has been no recent public polling of the race.
Honda's campaign was noncommittal about scheduling the debates.
"Congressman Honda is focused on his work improving the lives of his constituents. Given how early it is (the full field of candidates isn't set yet, and probably won't be for a couple more months), the campaign has not made any decisions yet regarding debates," Honda spokesman Vivek Kembaiyan tells The Hill.
This post was updated at 1:40 p.m.