California Reps. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman have purchased almost $1.5 million combined in cable television time ahead of their June 5 primary, according to figures provided by the campaigns.
Both Democrats are expected to advance beyond the top-two primary in this safe Democratic district in the San Fernando Valley. Their initial media buys, which were launched April 16, were designed to improve their primary showing and are the latest evidence this hotly contested fight could go down as one of the costliest House races ever.
In the shadow of Hollywood, this Member-vs.-Member battle is a symbol of redistricting-forced intraparty duels and is unique for a number of reasons. Berman’s fundraising reports read like movie credits, and he was honored last night at the “Grammys on the Hill” for his efforts to improve the working environment of the nation’s music community.
Berman, who is backed by California’s two Senators and two-thirds of the Democratic House delegation, has outraised Sherman by $1 million this cycle and took in more than $50,000 on Monday at a Sacramento fundraiser hosted by Gov. Jerry Brown. Sherman’s $4 million war chest as of March 31 was the largest of any Democratic House candidate, according to Political MoneyLine.
Direct mail will likely be the dominant medium in the prohibitively expensive Los Angeles media market, but the TV ads could help the campaigns get the needle moving and, at the very least, help distinguish the two Members from each other. They’re from the same party and have similar voting records. They’re both Jewish and have represented parts of the San Fernando Valley for years. Their last names rhyme, and they’re often mistaken for each other and even referred to by their first names to avoid confusion.
“A part of it is really just a reflection of running for the House in the Los Angeles media market and is something every House candidate goes through, where there is virtually no free media attention,” LA-based Democratic strategist Roy Behr said. “Even for candidates who have been around as long as these guys, there’s relatively little serious name recognition.”
Berman, who hasn’t received as little as 60 percent of the vote since his first race in 1982, spent more than $1 million for a cable TV buy. Sherman spent about $420,000 for a six-week flight of a positive spot that highlights his work on behalf of the area since first being elected in 1996. It says Sherman fought to preserve Social Security and Medicare but also furthers his claim to the valley, which he and Berman split representation of for the last 16 years.
“I have a proven history of working with and for the people of the San Fernando Valley — to give them a voice and to represent Valley values in Congress,” Sherman said in a statement. “Ultimately, that will be the determining factor in this campaign.”
According to polling by the Sherman campaign released earlier this month, the race has been stagnant since August, with Sherman holding a lead of at least 25 points. At this point, that’s largely an indication of name recognition — Sherman currently represents about 60 percent of the redrawn 30th district, more than three times as much as Berman.
Both should advance to the general election June 5, but Sherman would no doubt like to come out of the all-party primary with a majority of the vote, and Berman wants to cut deeply into that.
“Nothing has changed,” Sherman consultant Parke Skelton said. “Both candidates are better known now, both have increased their favorability some, people are becoming more aware and more committed in their choices. But the gap hasn’t changed.”
For all its fame and fortune, at its core, the race is a tug of war over local issues. The spending is already astronomical, but the basis of the latest dustup is one that could be found in “Any District, USA.”
The Berman campaign vigorously disputes Sherman’s characterization of his role in securing funding for an expansion of Interstate 405, one of the busiest highways in the country. This has come up in some of the seven or so debates and forums they have engaged in over the past several months, with the last one scheduled this Monday at California State University, Northridge.
The Berman campaign shared a five-page document detailing his efforts with former Minnesota Democratic Rep. Jim Oberstar, then the ranking member on the Transportation Committee, and then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) to ensure the project would be fully funded and completed within a few years.
“The difference between my opponent and me is that I don’t just listen. I actually get the job done and have a long record of delivering for the Valley,” Berman said in a statement to Roll Call. “That’s why leading California Democrats, police agencies, and Valley community leaders who have worked with both of us are endorsing my reelection.”
The candidates have met on many occasions already, sometimes along with two of the Republicans in the race, author Susan Shelley and 2010 candidate Mark Reed, who have clearly enjoyed some of the back-and-forth.
Shelley’s campaign YouTube channel features a three-minute clip of one particularly sharp Berman-Sherman exchange on March 14, when voices were raised after Sherman asked Berman whether he’s been using a government-paid vehicle while campaigning.
A couple of more radio debates are in the works before the primary, and five more months of campaigning awaits beyond that.