Sherman claims the lead, Berman goes negative

Berman+Sherman+Town+Hall+JJ.jpgThere have been some developments, political and media, since we last checked in on the congressional race in the Valley between incumbent Democrats Brad Sherman and Howard Berman. The campaigns are in a war of insurgency against the other, trying to win points with voters, potential donors and reporters. Today's serve came from the Sherman side. They released a glimpse at a poll, done for them, that puts Sherman ahead of Berman by a sizable margin. In the poll by the Feldman Group, Sherman leads 46 percent to 29 percent, with another 26 percent either undecided or confused (thinking there is someone else in the race.)

"Congressman Brad Sherman remains the likely winner of the election in the new 30th Congressional District," says the Feldman memo provided by Sherman's campaign consultants. "Eleven months after our first poll for the campaign, the structure of the race remains the same: In the initial match-up, before any information about candidates beyond their ballot designations, Sherman leads Howard Berman by 17 points. After months of campaigning, little has changed in the dynamic of the race; Sherman still holds a commanding lead over Berman."

In the Sherman analysis, he leads among Democrats, Republicans and independents, among Jewish and non-Jewish voters, and in the parts of the newly drawn district that he now represents and the slice that Rep. Henry Waxman represents. Berman leads only in the small piece of the new district where he is the current representative in Congress, according to the Feldman document.

The Berman side sent out a response from consultant Brandon Hall attempting to shoot down the findings. “There is a lot of chatter coming from Brad Sherman about this race being over. We hope he continues to buy that storyline," Hall said in the written statement. "It’s obvious Brad Sherman will do anything to avoid talking about his record of passing three bills in fifteen years, two of which named post offices."

Berman's campaign on Wednesday launched a new website aimed at publicizing what they hope voters will see as less positive sides to Sherman. "As we update the site each week voters will begin to understand who Brad Sherman really is and his inability to deliver for the Valley," the Berman campaign said.

Media coverage of that focused on the "going negative" turn. NBC 4 blogger Joe Matthews fingered Hall, Berman's newly promoted campaign chief, as "a political strategist with a history of rough negative attacks" whose style of campaigning became more likely under the recent voter-mandated twist in California politics.

The sad state of the Berman-Sherman race can't be blamed on Hall and his fellow strategists. This sort of nasty race is precisely what California's election reformers decided to give us when they pushed through reform of the redistricting process and the establishment of the "top two" election system.

Reformers, of course, touted these changes as methods for increasing civic engagement and encouraging compromise and more moderate politicians.

But that's not how these things work in practice.

With California's political geography, with a heavily Democratic coast and a heavily Republican inland area, the real effect of these reforms was clearly going to be to set more politicians of the same party and same region against each other.

And those are often the nastiest races.

The anti-Sherman website led off with an attack on his record of not passing many bills, and included a memo that makes it sound as if he delays taking a position on bills until he knows that passage is in the bag. Sherman consultant Parke Skelton shrugged to the LA Times.

"The Berman campaign has somehow obtained an unknown number of internal documents from Congressman Sherman's office," Skelton said, "and they release one which states that Congressman Sherman wants his staff to continue a long-standing policy of identifying good bipartisan legislation that he can assess and decide whether to co-sponsor and work to pass on the floor. That's the best hit they can find?"

Hall said the memo instead shows Sherman "just wants to sign onto bills that are already moving -- regardless of policy."

More coverage: LA Weekly, Jewish Journal

Politics page

Photo: Jewish Journal

More by Kevin Roderick:
'In on merit' at USC
Read the memo: LA Times hires again
Read the memo: LA Times losing big on search traffic
Google taking over LA's deadest shopping mall
Gustavo Arellano, many others join LA Times staff
Recent Berman-Sherman stories on LA Observed:
Howard Berman lands with DC lobbying firm
Cost of Berman-Sherman campaign: $16.3 million
Big bucks for Berman super PAC
Video: Sherman and Berman get in each other's face
NPR drops in on the Berman-Sherman race
A new Berman attack
Berman gets the Times endorsement too
And the Daily News endorsement goes to... ... ... Berman