The San Fernando Valley congressional race that has become a national example of chaotic changes in California’s election system is about to get dirtier – and more expensive, experts say.
Campaign strategists for Congressmen Brad Sherman and Howard Berman – two long-serving Democrats competing for the same San Fernando Valley seat – were already back on the job Wednesday morning, after a hard-fought campaign boosted both men to a runoff election next November.
Expect a flood of TV commercials from the Sherman side, a rush of fund-raising from the well-connected Berman, and down-and-dirty mailers from both.
“It’s going to be a really tough fight,” said Zack Tupper, a spokesman for Berman’s campaign.
The two liberals, colleagues but never the closest of friends, are facing each other instead of a Republican because California’s new election system requires the top two candidates in a primary race to face off against each other in a runoff – regardless of party affiliation.
At the same time, a new, non-partisan method for drawing congressional districts, while eliminating gerrymandering, plopped both of them within the same boundaries, and left them fighting over the same voters.
The Sherman campaign, with $3 million still in its coffers that was unspent during the lead-up to Tuesday’s primary, plans to blanket local TV and radio with commercials in favor of the 57-year-old, said Sherman spokesman John Schwada.
Berman, who trailed Sherman by 10% of the vote in Tuesday’s primary, had just $821,361 on hand as of three weeks ago, according to the Center for Responsive politics. So despite a long list of powerhouse endorsements, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, his campaign will need to furiously raise money in order to keep fighting.
“We had a staff meeting first thing this morning,” said Berman spokesman Tupper. “We didn't sleep in.”
To win in November, Berman will have to vastly improve his showing in a district that is already mostly represented by his opponent. He will also have to reach out to independents and Republicans, who make up about 25% of voters in the area, a small but sizeable minority.
Sherman also plans to reach out to Republicans. "It won't be much of a stretch for Brad Sherman to appeal to Republican voters," Schwada said.
But Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles, said it would be a mistake for either man to paint himself as too conservative.
“The winning candidate is going to get the most votes from Democrats,” who make up 48% of the electorate, Sonenshein said. “So running a Republican-leaning campaign may be a mistake.”
If the campaign gets too nasty, Republican voters may take a pass altogether, Sonenshein said.
And if the last days of the primary are any indication, nasty is just where this campaign is going, he and others said.
“My guess is that they are going to do more direct mail,” Sonenshein said. “Because you can be much harsher.”