Bill Boyarsky
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Berman, Sherman plot for November

Rep. Howard Berman figures a substantial turnout in November—more than doubling the size of the paltry June primary vote--will push him ahead of Rep. Brad Sherman, who outpolled him in that San Fernando Valley election.

Sherman, of course, doesn’t agree. A compilation by Sherman’s campaign consultant, Parke Skelton, shows the size of the task facing Berman, the 29-year Democratic congressman in his race against Sherman, who has served in the House for 15 years. Reapportionment put them in the same district, the newly created 30th.

In the primary, Sherman finished ahead of Berman 42.4 percent to 32.4 percent. Voters from the old Sherman district are now a majority in the new one, and his support from them put him ahead of Berman. Voters from Berman’s old district who were placed in the new constituency continued to support him. But Sherman carried the neutral voters who had not been represented by either him or Berman.

“In all a very good result for Sherman,” Skelton said in e-mail. “He won his district by more than Berman won his, and Sherman won the neutral territory handily.”

Brandon Hall, Berman’s campaign consultant, placed a different interpretation on the numbers. He told me that the turnout in the primary was “exceptionally low.” Just 88,605 of 369,067 registered voters cast ballots. That means 280,462 voters are in play, more than three times the number of the primary electorate. In other words, this is a new campaign.

Hall said the non-voters, far outnumbering the voters, “will be a more favorable electorate” for Berman, aiming at more centrist or independent voters. It could also be more favorable to a Berman campaign that is trying to look almost bipartisan, with support from Republican big names as well as Democratic office holders who have worked with him in Congress and his previous years in the state legislature.

In addition, the Berman side promises a hard-hitting campaign. That would be a change from the primary where Berman, rusty after years of no-competition elections, didn’t seem to know how handle Sherman’s aggressiveness. He improved as the primary campaign went on. Now, he’s taking direct aim at Sherman’s record. “He’s only passed three pieces of legislation, two of them naming post offices,” Hall said.

When I passed this on to the Sherman camp, the congressman called me to defend his record and assault Berman’s. Berman, he said, passed no bills in his first 12 years, not uncommon in Congress where legislation is cooperative. “Based on his own standards, he should have resigned,” Sherman said. “This is an insane, ridiculous, malevolent way to judge a congressman.”

He said he shaped and improved important legislation. “I had more to do with Dodd-Frank (the financial reform law) than anyone except Dodd and Frank,” he said. “I took the bad stuff out.” He followed up with an e-mail listing the successful bills on which he’s worked. “I believe in working with other members of Congress no matter who gets the credit. That's why I've cosponsored 140 bills that are now law,” he said.

That’s just one of the issues that will be explored in the next few months of rough campaigning. Democratic insiders have decried the two Democrats opposing each other in an expensive campaign. But I’m looking forward to the next few months. Isn’t this what democracy is about?

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