If it were a Capitol Hill popularity contest, Rep. Howard Berman would likely be headed for a runaway victory. But the 15-term lawmaker, who’s never won with less than 60 percent of the vote, is facing significant geographic and demographic disadvantages in California’s San Fernando Valley against fellow Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman.
The question hanging over the high-profile race is how Berman, the overwhelming favorite among the California delegation and Hollywood royalty, picks up ground in a redrawn district that includes far more of Sherman’s current territory.
When the two colleagues face off in the 30th district general election, potentially more than two times as many voters will participate than voted in the low turnout, seven-candidate all-party primary on June 5. The two Democrats, drawn together by redistricting, combined to receive 75 percent of the vote, with Sherman outperforming Berman by 10 points.
“It’s just a brand new electorate,” Berman campaign manager Brandon Hall said, “and an electorate that we feel is much more favorable to us.”
An independent statistical analysis of the primary, set to be released today by Democratic consulting firm Redistricting Partners, found that Sherman performed decisively better than Berman among “decline to state” party preference voters and in areas with significant Latino populations, which are largely in Sherman’s current district. “Those are the growth markets in the general election,” the firm’s founder, Paul Mitchell, said by phone on Tuesday.
The analysis is not a general election predictor, but it provides a detailed illustration of where Sherman and Berman, who won the Jewish vote decisively, performed best in the primary — and where they should focus their efforts going forward.
Among the portions of the three old districts that constitute the new 30th, Sherman won the part of the redrawn district that he currently represents — which accounted for nearly half the total vote — 49 percent to 25 percent, and the area carved out of Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D) district 41 percent to 29 percent. Berman won his current territory 49 percent to 32 percent.
“All along the race has been about geography,” Sherman consultant Parke Skelton said. “Who represents what is an overwhelming factor. Not who does Betty White support.”
The television star endorsed Berman and made a cameo in one of the Congressman’s pre-primary ads. Berman spent about $1 million on cable TV in the prohibitively expensive Los Angeles media market, and a pro-Berman super PAC spent another $500,000 — combining to spend three times what Sherman did on TV — all highlighting Berman’s endorsements and work for the district.
But don’t expect Berman’s messaging to stay purely positive in the general. The campaign plans to hammer home what differentiates the two Democrats who don’t seem all that dissimilar.