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California Democratic Reps. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman have worked together in Congress for 15 years, but the next year could find them spending millions of dollars telling voters why only one of them should return to Washington.
Their western San Fernando Valley matchup is expected to be one of the most expensive House races ever and has already split the delegation, with 23 of California's 32 other Democrats endorsing Berman and two backing Sherman.
Rep. Henry Waxman, who represents a neighboring district and is a longtime friend of Berman, believes the endorsement list "says a lot because people ordinarily don't want to get in the middle of a fight." In this case they feel so strongly that if they have to choose, they want Berman, Waxman said.
Rep. Jim Costa, who also goes way back with Berman, said he wishes the two Members could avoid the race altogether. Berman allies have urged Sherman to run in the open Ventura County district to the west.
"I think it's silly for [Berman] and Brad to be running against each other," Costa said. "Brad's a decent guy, but there's that other seat that he could run for. I don't know why he's insisting we spend all this money in one race. It makes absolutely no sense politically."
Berman is raising money at a feverish pace, tapping his connections in the entertainment industry to help bring in $819,000 in the third quarter. He said in an interview that he expects to turn in an "impressive fourth quarter" as well.
Looking ahead, Berman guessed he and Sherman could spend $10 million combined. But he outlined his most important goal: "I will raise enough to do what I need to do to win."
Sherman has saved up money after a decade of noncompetitive races, the result of lines drawn in 2001 by Berman's brother, Democratic consultant Michael Berman. With $3.7 million in the bank, Sherman is continuing to emphasize his tireless public appearances in the reshaped district, which, after the state's newly installed independent redistricting process, includes more than half of his current district and both Members' homes.
Thanks to the state's new "top two" primary system, the contest for the strongly Democratic 30th district could last past the June primary and into November. But with one Republican already in the race — businessman Mark Reed, who lost to Sherman in 2010 — and a 25 percent GOP voter registration, Democratic consultant Paul Mitchell said there is a real chance only one of the Democrats could make it to the general.