The next congressional election is more than a year away, and although California’s new political boundaries were formally approved on Aug. 15, Republicans are already considering launching a referendum to overturn them.
But in the competition between two Jewish Democratic incumbent congressmen who have both announced their intent to run for re-election in the same newly redrawn district in the West San Fernando Valley, the opening salvo in the 2012 campaign already has been fired.
On Aug. 5, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) released a list of more than 100 political and community leaders endorsing his bid for re-election in the 30th Congressional District in 2012. The list, which is also posted on Sherman’s campaign Web site (bradsherman.com), included endorsements from more than a dozen state and local elected officials and featured a quote from former President Bill Clinton praising Sherman’s work.
“Brad has worked tirelessly for the people of California and I hope he will continue to do so,” the quote from Clinton reads.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, California State Controller John Chiang, state Sen. Fran Pavley and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom are included among Sherman’s endorsers. L.A. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich and four members of the Los Angeles City Council also pledged their support.
Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys), meanwhile, appears to be holding his fire, at least for now. On July 29, the day California’s Citizens Redistricting Commission released its final draft of the state’s political lines, Berman said in a statement that he had every intention of running in the 30th District but would wait until the maps were final before formally launching his campaign.
Sherman’s announcement about his supporters didn’t appear to provoke any change in Berman’s approach.
“Congressman Berman is not going to be focused on endorsements until after he formally announces his candidacy,” Berman spokeswoman Gabby Adler wrote in an e-mail. “There will be plenty of time to campaign, but right now congressional business, including job creation and addressing the economic woes facing our nation, is priority number one for Congressman Berman.”
Both Berman and Sherman live in the newly drawn 30th District. Although members of Congress are not required to live in the districts they represent, neither Berman nor Sherman has shown any sign of backing away from their competing claims on the West San Fernando Valley district.
The prospect of these two veteran lawmakers each laying claim to the same district has been imminent since the release of the first draft of maps by the commission in June. That map gave the first concrete indication that a new majority Latino congressional district would be drawn in the East San Fernando Valley.
The final draft of maps, which the commission approved on Aug. 15, maintains this division of the San Fernando Valley into one mostly white district and another mostly Latino district. Both districts lean solidly Democratic.
The e-mail, which was signed by Sherman and sent to thousands of supporters, is designed to strengthen the eight-term incumbent’s position and to make clear that he will not capitulate in the face of the more senior Berman. (Berman was first elected to Congress in 1982.)
In a recent Jewish Journal cover story exploring the prospect of a race between Sherman and Berman, most Jewish leaders expressed hope that a Berman versus Sherman race could be avoided. A few, including former Congressman Mel Levine, said they felt Berman’s position as ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee would ultimately lead Israel supporters to consider his continued presence in Congress to be essential.
Just two Democratic leaders, both long-time friends of Berman’s, came out and explicitly endorsed him over Sherman. One, veteran Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman, said Berman’s seniority made him indispensable.
“We are very lucky to have him play the role he plays,” he said. “And I think the country is lucky. A freshman Democrat is not going to take his place. Brad Sherman is not going to take his place.”
In a recent interview, Sherman told The Jewish Journal that the only people objecting to his running for re-election in the West Valley district are Berman and Waxman, and the list of those endorsing him shows that quite a few local leaders are throwing their support in his direction.
Assemblyman Mike Gatto, L.A. City Councilman Mitchell Englander, Los Angeles Community College Board Member Scott Svonkin and Burbank City Councilwoman Emily Gabel-Luddy all endorsed Sherman in the weeks immediately before the list was circulated.
Los Angeles City Councilmen Dennis Zine and Paul Koretz endorsed Sherman many months ago, before the first redistricting maps were released in June and before the prospect of a Berman-Sherman competition became more likely.
Trutanich, who endorsed Sherman in June, had not been aware that Sherman might face Berman when he pledged his support, but that didn’t shake the city attorney’s commitment to Sherman.
A spokesman for Baca, who offered his support to Sherman sometime around July 8, equivocated slightly, saying that just because Baca endorsed Sherman does not mean the sheriff won’t endorse other candidates.
“He [Baca] believes both of them [Berman and Sherman] are valued assets to the Congress and both of them have served their constituencies well,” Sheriff’s Department spokesman Steve Whitmore said. “So it is not one over the other. Right now, it’s speculative because those districts have not been finalized yet.”
Of the prominent endorsers on Sherman’s list who could be reached — spokespeople for Clinton, Chiang and Pavley all declined to comment, and Newsom did not return calls —Baca might be the only one on Sherman’s list who is still attempting to avoid choosing one of these incumbents over the other.
Raphael Sonenshein, a professor of political science at California State University, Fullerton, and an experienced observer of political campaigns, said that this type of “pre-battle battle” is standard practice and very significant.
“Many battles are won before they’re fought,” Sonenshein said. “You don’t wait until Election Day; you try to clear the field.”
High-profile endorsements are one way to scare off potential opponents. “Clinton’s endorsement remains one of the most influential endorsements one can get among Democrats, and Brad Sherman is a lucky man to have his recommendation,” said Eric Bauman, vice chair of the California Democratic Party.
“Endorsing one candidate over another doesn’t necessarily negate the quality of the other candidate,” Bauman added. “It reflects the fact that endorsements are about relationships and working together. I’m sure that Congressman Berman will also have a very diverse list of supporters.”
Another way politicians attempt to convey the strength of their campaigns, Sonenshein said, is by amassing a large war chest.
“That’s why incumbents raise so much money when it appears that they don’t need it,” Sonenshein said. “You try to make it appear to the other person that it’s too costly to take you on. This is normal behavior.”
As of the most recent reports filed with the Federal Elections Commission, Berman had $1.5 million cash on hand to spend on a campaign. Sherman had $3.7 million — which included $250,000 that Sherman loaned to his campaign on June 30, the last day of the reporting period.
Options exist for both incumbents beyond the 30th District. Berman could run in the Latino-majority district in the East San Fernando Valley; Sherman could run in a Ventura County district (that was once solidly Republican but is now believed to be Democratic-leaning) that lies directly to the West.
As of now, neither lawmaker appears to be open to either of these possibilities, which worries Israel supporters.
“It’s really clear that it’s not in the interest of people who support Israel for the two of them to run against each other,” Howard Welinsky, the board chair of Democrats for Israel, said.
So far, nobody from the Democratic leadership has stepped in to attempt to push for a resolution.
“If there was going to be a deal brokered, most likely it would be coming from the House Democratic Caucus leadership,” Bauman said. “To the best of my knowledge, I’m not aware of that being the case in this race at this time.”