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Tensions High in California Contest

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Democratic Reps. Howard Berman (left) and Brad Sherman on Wednesday participated in a candidate forum hosted by ONEGeneration and the League of Women Voters, in Reseda, Calif. The two Democrats are vying to represent California’s 30th district after redistricting put the two former allies in the same district.

With a heavy geographic disadvantage — Sherman currently represents about 60 percent of the redrawn 30th district in the San Fernando Valley — Berman is the underdog. So he’s making an effort not only to highlight his role in local issues but also to downplay the legislative accomplishments of Sherman.

Larry Levine, a veteran Democratic consultant based in the Valley and a longtime friend of Berman, said the Berman campaign had a few challenges going into this race: to introduce Berman to the new voters, to reintroduce him to his own constituents because he hasn’t had a competitive race in 40 years, and to give voters reasons not to back Sherman. Republicans, who could account for as much as 30 percent of the vote, might just make the difference, he said.

“If the campaign does its job, Berman should win the Republican vote,” Levine said. “The question is how many of them are going to vote?”

After finishing 10 points back in June’s low-turnout “jungle” primary, Berman is reaching out to voters of any stripe. On Wednesday, Berman couldn’t help letting slip that he had been endorsed by a majority of the California Republican delegation, something his campaign was planning to announce the next day.

Why do those Republicans, along with Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and other GOP Members of Congress, support Berman over Sherman? Berman told the senior center crowd it’s because he “brings home the bacon” and Sherman “co-sponsors bills ... and then exalts in his greatness.”

Berman has the sway on Capitol Hill and the endorsement of the governor, the mayor of Los Angeles, both California Senators and 34 Democrats and Republicans in the state’s Congressional delegation. But Sherman has been confident from the get-go not only that he is favored but that this should be considered a “safe Sherman” seat.

Sherman, now serving his eighth term, emits a cocky ownership of the Valley, specifically the western part, which he currently represents. The bald Congressman still passes out combs at campaign events, and he’s legendary for popping up at almost any small gathering of local elected officials or constituents.

Sherman claims that Berman is running for a district that is rightfully Sherman’s and that Berman could have run in the open Ventura County seat on the coast. Berman allies had hoped Sherman would be the one to do the moving.

“If something bad happens to your house, you can’t just take a baseball bat and drive your neighbor out of his house,” Sherman told Roll Call. “You best go down the road until you find an open house. There was an open district in Ventura. He didn’t want to move that far, and he thought he could take a baseball bat and kick me out of my house. This is my house.”

Katrina McNeal said after the senior center debate that she is backing Sherman because he stood up to Wall Street banks, one of Sherman’s top talking points, and because he focuses on the district, not foreign policy.

Ricki Bergman said she remains undecided and planned to visit both candidates’ websites before making a decision. She made sure to note that she was “very comfortable having both of them in Congress.” 

‘I Don’t Have Combs to Pass Out’

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