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California Open Primary Leads to Democratic Slugfest

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The new California open primary is, as expected, producing some unusual, tumultuous races. In the newly- drawn 30th Congressional District, the race is between two incumbent Democrats, Howard Berman and Brad Sherman. Because this is a new seat, only one can win. In the California open primary, the top two vote getters regardless of party face each other in the general election. Thus we have the perhaps unseemly spectacle of two allies who differ very little on the issues slugging it out to win the election.

Indeed, they are so similar that the LA Weekly said, “The battle is now underway to determine which bald, Jewish Democrat who voted for the Iraq war will continue to represent the San Fernando Valley in Congress.”

Calbuzz says in mock disagreement, “There are clear differences, between the two congressmen: Berman is a member of Adat Ari El and Sherman attends Valley Beth Shalom.”

But putting snark aside, this election may be painful in some ways for Democrats as it pits party members with decades of experience against each other, something that could lead to intra-party fissures.

Sherman won the primary by nearly 10%, with 42.3% compared to Berman’s 32.4%. The district is 49% Democratic, 26% Republican, and 21% decline-to-state. Thus, Republicans, should they choose to vote, will have to vote for a Democrat. Neither Sherman nor Berman are reaching out to Republicans much, probably because they don’t need to. The race is almost certain to be determined by Democratic voters.

Berman recently got 58.5% of votes for an endorsement from the state Democratic Party compared to Sherman’s 23.4%. But 60% is required for the state party to endorse. This means no money or troops from the state party to help in his campaign, and Berman could use both since he is behind in fundraising. Sherman has nearly $3 million in the bank compared to Berman’s $447,000.

Berman appears to be the favored candidate of the political establishment, with endorsements from California Gov. Jerry Brown, both California senators, tacit support from Nancy Pelosi, and Sen. Harry Reid has done a fundfraiser for him. Plus, he has long enjoyed support from the Hollywood entertainment industry. But in this increasing populist era of ours, being the favorite of the established order might hurt more than it helps.

Sherman does seem in command of this highly visible race. There are also races in California where two Republicans are running in the general election. Will there be lasting damage within the parties due to the California open primary, should these races get nasty? We shall see.

Image credit: burbankleader.com

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