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With Berman, Sherman, and other Dems facing off, Republicans may hold the key

by Jonah Lowenfeld

June 13, 2012 | 2:56 pm

From left: Rep. Howard Berman and Rep. Brad Sherman

This November, Allan Hoffman is going to have a difficult choice to make on Election Day.

A registered Republican since Ronald Reagan first ran for president, Hoffman, who lives in Woodland Hills, voted for Mark Reed in the 30th Congressional District primary on June 5. Reed, one of three Republican candidates on the primary ballot, received just 12.6 percent of votes cast, leaving him well behind the top two vote-getters, Rep. Brad Sherman (D–Sherman Oaks) and Rep. Howard Berman (D–Van Nuys).

Now, thanks to California’s new top-two primary system, Hoffman will have to choose which of the two Democratic incumbents to vote for in November.

This is the first election cycle to test the top-two primary system established by Proposition 14, which was approved by voters in 2010, and the political parties are still trying to figure out how — or whether — to advise their members in elections that don’t include a candidate from their party on the ballot.

For Republicans, party rules include sanctions for those who endorse against a Republican; what’s not clear is what happens if a member endorses in a race with no Republican candidate.

“The new election rules are going to force the parties to evaluate how they are going to engage in self-governance going forward,” Adam Abrahms, regional vice chair of the California Republican Party, said.

Some individual Republicans already have weighed in on both sides of the Berman-Sherman race, but the party is very unlikely to do so.

“We are not making any recommendations,” Gary Aminoff, vice chair of the Republican Party of Los Angeles County (LAGOP), said.

Still, with 26 percent of the voters in the 30th District registered as Republicans, both Berman and Sherman are working hard to win over the votes of non-Democrats — and they’re not the only ones running for office in the Los Angeles area doing so.

In two new Assembly districts with sizable minorities of Jewish voters, the 46th District in the central San Fernando Valley and the 50th District, which comprises most of the Westside of Los Angeles from West Hollywood to Malibu, voters could also face a choice in November between two Democratic candidates vying to represent them in Sacramento.

One Republican candidate ran in each of these strongly Democratic districts, and both managed to win enough votes to ensure that on June 12, when this article went to press, the races were still too close to call. In the 46th District, while Democrat Adrin Nazarian had secured the top spot,  just four votes separated Democrat Brian Johnson and Republican Jay L. Stern, leaving open the question of who will end up in the second spot on the November ballot. Democrat Andrew Lachman trailed by nearly 300 votes.

On June 8, when he appeared to be less than 100 votes behind Johnson, Stern said that if the top two finishers were Nazarian and Johnson, he wouldn’t be making any official recommendations to voters as to which one to choose.

“They’re both equally bad,” said Stern, who said he considers himself culturally Jewish. “I’d say just leave it blank.”

In the 50th District, meanwhile, Republican Brad Torgan, who said he is a member of Congregation Kol Ami, was on June 11 just a few hundred votes behind the Democrats who appeared to have secured the top two spots, Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom and incumbent Assemblymember Betsy Butler.

As of June 11, Torgan said he hadn’t conceded the race, but had already been approached by both Butler’s and Bloom’s campaigns. Torgan said that if he did not make it into the top two, he wasn’t sure what he, as an ex-officio member of LAGOP’s central committee, would be allowed to say about either of the Democrats.

“Proposition 14 has created a new paradigm as to what the rules are,” Torgan said. “And I know I’m not the only Republican
in this quandary.”

But according to California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro, even if there are no Republicans in some races, the party will be working to get its voters to the polls in the fall. The presidential candidates may not be contesting this reliably blue state, but he said the propositions on the November ballot — including Gov. Jerry Brown’s measure to raise taxes on high-income earners — are too important to concede.

“It’s going to be one of the most dynamic and important elections in California, probably since 1992,” Del Beccaro said.

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