With the Democratic Party refusing to endorse a candidate and polls suggesting that no Democrat will come in second in the 26th Congressional District primary in Ventura County, I thought I might pay attention to the fireworks detonating in the 30th congressional district these days.
Representatives Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks, and Howard Berman, D-Valley Village, — two veteran congressmen dumped into the same district by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission — are locked into a super-spending shootout for the San Fernando Valley seat.
When Brad Sherman, who sports an Adlai Stevenson hairline, used to campaign, he gave away plastic combs imprinted with the words, "You need this more than I do." Like Stevenson, who once quipped, "Eggheads of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your yolks," Sherman is witty, eloquent and a liberal thinker. But unlike Stevenson, Sherman always wins elections.
Three significant connections still exist between Brad Sherman and Ventura County.
First, he represented the eastern portion of the county during the six years (1996-2002) he served as our representative from the 24th Congressional District. Although Elton Gallegly, R-Simi Valley, would assume his seat in January 2003, Sherman would turn east, take on and trounce Republican Robert M. Levy (62 to 38 percent) for the 27th District seat he holds today.
Second, back in 1996, Sherman would win his initial congressional office (24th District) by defeating Republican Rich Sybert. If the name Sybert sounds familiar, he is the guy Tony Strickland accused of tearing down his yard signs during the 1998 state Assembly primary. In fact, Strickland captured the red-faced Sybert red-handed — on videotape, no less.
Third, last February, when Ventura County Supervisor Steve Bennett was the frontrunner in the race for the 26th District — having already raised more than $241,000 for his campaign — Bennett shocked and awed delegates at the California Democratic Party Convention by announcing his decision to drop out. Immediately, local pundits and national political know-it-alls predicted that Brad Sherman would throw his duds into a carpetbag and his chapeau into the ring — after acquiring an appropriate Ventura County address.
Not only could Sherman have benefited by avoiding a costly, contentious faceoff against Berman, but also Board of Equalization member Betty Yee had already succeeded, with the assistance of other Berman backers, in keeping Sherman from garnering the Democratic Party's endorsement.
"It would be insane, self-destructive and wrong — horribly wrong" for the party to endorse Sherman, Yee argued in a letter distributed at the meeting — even before Bennett's seemingly unexpected revelation. She suggested that Sherman switch to the neighboring 26th District, which had become, post-redistricting, more Democrat-friendly than it had been during the decade Republican Rep. Elton Gallegly held sway. According to Yee, Sherman "knows Ventura County and Ventura County knows him."
But Sherman wasn't about to trade Sherman Oaks for Thousand Oaks. He was, in fact, eager to face off against his fellow congressman, despite the fact that the 90-year-old Hollywood sensation Betty White agreed to star in a Berman campaign ad with fellow cast-member from "Hot in Cleveland" Wendie Malick. The spot capitalizes on White's lifelong advocacy for critters, great and small, by touting Berman as "the Valley leader who fights for the humane treatment of all animals." And, as Ms. White coyly adds, "He has very nice blue eyes."
While both Democratic congressman tend to agree on most issues, Sherman made super PACs a litmus test early on by challenging Berman to renounce at least two such organizations that have arisen to financially back the 15-term congressman.
Sherman expects to be considerably outspent by Berman, yet a recent internal poll for Sherman finds the 8-term congressman ahead by 27 points in a potential general election matchup. That significant lead, however, is expected to diminish as November nears.
While Sherman's staff harbors no doubt that their candidate remains better known and more popular than Berman, they are even more heartened by demographics. The number of voters in the portion of the district currently represented by Sherman is almost double the number in Berman's.
A recent two-hour forum at the Valley Performing Arts Center, however, gave both Sherman and Berman the chance to prove that "a joke," at least according to Winston Churchill, "is a very serious thing." During the debate, Sherman kept needling Berman to finally cough up his income tax returns. When Berman promised "Friday," Sherman wondered — out loud — as to the reason Berman's Xerox machine seemed to function so slowly.
But Berman got the last laugh when radio host and moderator Bill Handel claimed Berman's response to his question about how to handle the federal deficit just didn't make any sense. "I guess I'm not Handel's messiah," quipped Berman. Adlai Stevenson would have been so proud.