Brandon Hall, the Democratic strategist who joined the Howard Berman reelection campaign in March as a senior advisor, is taking full charge of everything, campaign sources say. That would be a big and serious shift in approach by Berman, who for decades kept his political campaign machinery tightly in the hands of his brother Michael.
Michael Berman's deft targeting of voter segments and his media strategy have provided all the firepower and campaign guidance that the veteran congressman needed in the past. But this year, Howard Berman is in the reelection fight of his life. He's up against another Democratic congressman, Brad Sherman, in a race that's turning out to be the most closely watched and expensive intra-party battle in the country. In the June primary, Sherman finished ahead of Berman by ten points in the San Fernando Valley district they now share due to reapportionment.
Hall, who moved to Los Angeles with the reputation of having saved Nevada Senator Harry Reid's skin when his 2010 reelection was in doubt, was in charge of Berman's day to day operations during the primary campaign. He now will take over the Berman media strategy, messaging and all other key elements. In addition, for the first time in a long while, if ever, the Berman camp is employing an outside pollster. The Democratic pollsters Fairbanks, Maslin, Maullin & Metz will now be helping out, a source close to the campaign confirmed.
It all suggests that Howard Berman is acknowledging lost opportunities in the primary and that he's trying to shift into a higher gear for the November general campaign — a good idea, since he risks becoming the highest-ranking Democrat in the House to lose his job. It's been so long since Berman has needed to use a high gear that I'll be curious to see (mixed metaphor ahead...) if he's still got the blazing fastball he once was known for.
Berman certainly used to relish an intense political fight, dating back to the days when he and Henry Waxman came out of UCLA and began building a Westside political organization that was very effective at the ballot box. In the 1980s Berman took on the Assembly speaker in Sacramento and won some new fear and respect among other Democrats, as well as some lasting hard feelings among allies of the Bay Area's Leo McCarthy.
Michael Berman was a critical, if behind-the-scenes player in those early campaigns. If he's truly slipping into the background this time, it's a notable marking of an era in LA politics.
Neither Berman nor Sherman were able to win the endorsement of the state Democratic Party in a vote this past weekend. But Berman had the support of twice as many delegates as Sherman. In the spring, Sherman had gotten most of the state party votes.
The race now is mostly about raising money — or claiming to be in better financial shape than the other guy. In the latest report, Sherman had more cash on hand to spend — about $3 million to about $446,000 for Berman. But Sherman has been juicing his number by making personal loans to his campaign, including another $450,000 in June.
Berman's strategists insist that their post-primary fundraising is going much better than Sherman's, but Sherman campaign consultant Parke Skelton sees it differently. "Not only did Berman trail Sherman by a landslide 10% in the June primary," Skelton says via email, "but now he confronts the need to try to catch up while facing a 6 to 1 cash on hand deficit."
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Photo: Sherman, left, and Berman