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Three Senators—2 GOP, one Independent – go for Berman

by Jonah Lowenfeld

September 11, 2012 | 3:11 pm

When Sens. Lindsey Graham, John McCain, Joe Lieberman announced on Monday that they were going to support Rep. Howard Berman in his race against fellow Democrat, Rep. Brad Sherman, the press couldn’t stop talking about “unusual,” “rare,” and “surprising” it was to see Republicans taking sides in a race between two Democrats.

It's all about attracting GOP votes in the majority Democratic 30th District; Berman finished 10 points behind Sherman in the June primary; that contest included a number of Republican candidates who won't be on the ballot in November.

But back to yesterday's "surprising" news: The best lede of the bunch came from The Hill’s Cameron Joseph, who called the endorsements “the latest example of the strange-bedfellows game California's new all-party primary has created.”

California is a weird and interesting place to watch politics these days (and not just in the 30th district – but more on that in the pages of the Journal later this week.)

What the Senators said about Berman (circulated to press by the Berman campaign) is stuff we’ve heard before – though, admittedly, these talking points have usually come from Democrats.

Graham, Republican of South Carolina, praised Berman’s bipartisanship, and called him “instrumental in passing laws to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, stop arms sales to nations that support terrorism, and keep our country safe.”

The independent Lieberman, of Connecticut, in a line sure to infuriate Sherman and his supporters, credited Berman with leading “the fight to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons -- working across the aisle to pass the toughest Iran sanctions in history.”

“When Israel's leadership needs a friend in Congress,” Lieberman added, “that ally is Howard Berman.”

McCain, Republican of Arizona, also praised Berman’s “bipartisan” work “on issues ranging from human rights to missile defense,” even using the E-Word (“effectiveness”) to describe Berman’s record.

Strange bedfellows? Yes, although I’d have to say that Barney Frank’s takedown of Sherman was stranger, still.

And apparently, the conference call Frank did with reporters in early August wasn’t the only setting in which he assailed Sherman on Berman’s behalf. The retiring Congressman from Massachusetts was in Southern California not too long ago for a Berman fundraiser.

Rep. Henry Waxman, a longtime friend of Berman’s, was at the fundraiser, and told me that what Frank said amounted to this: “Berman ... gets things done, is not trying to get the limelight, but accomplish important things. To have him punished by electing a guy who just takes cheap shots all the time, sends a signal that cheap shots are more important than good hard legislative work.”

Which reminds me: When Berman’s new campaign manager, Brandon Hall, took over, the campaign launched a Web site dedicated to bashing Sherman.

That site was supposed to be updated every Monday, and yet yesterday was the fourth straight Monday (including the Labor Day holiday) with no nasty news item.

Could the Berman campaign be moving back to its primary strategy, when Berman was ran on his “effectiveness?”

Or is it, as Sherman’s chief consultant put it in an email to reporters back in August, that Berman has simply “run out of mud to sling?”

Who’s to say what next Monday might bring?

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