The Daily Beast Reports: In an accident of redistricting following the 2010 Census, two popular Democratic congressmen with 44 years’ combined tenure are locked in a bitter fight to see who’ll be elected in the new 30th Congressional District. Brad Sherman and Howard Berman, both Jewish, share similar voting records and even serve together on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. But the Sherman-Berman race in the Valley is beginning to look like the History Channel’s wildly popular “Hatfields & McCoys”—a harsh feud of survival fought not with sixguns, but near daily charges and counter-charges and millions of dollars in full-color mailers and TV ads.
“This is nuclear war,” says University of Southern California political scientist Sherry Bebitch Jeffe. “You won’t see a congressional campaign that costs more or gets any nastier.”
Elected in 1996, Brad Sherman, 57, sells himself as a hard-hitting retail politician who constantly flies back home from Washington, D.C., and shares with constituents what he calls “Valley values.” He opposed the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) bailout in 2008, and blasts most free-trade agreements as bad deals for his constituents. He paints Berman as a Washington insider tied to special interests and super-PACs who’d rather jet off on foreign jaunts at taxpayer expense than pay attention to actual voters.
“I’ve done 160 town halls,” Sherman tells The Daily Beast after a Memorial Day weekend coffee-with-the-congressman event at the Chatsworth home of a retired aerospace engineer. “(Berman) hasn’t had the time to do them because he’s done 163 junkets.”
Berman, 71, is a professorial legislative insider whose specialties include foreign policy, environmental legislation, and digital antipiracy issues to protect Hollywood’s music and movie industries. He acknowledges he’s a low-key campaigner: he says his last hard-fought primary came with his first run for office, back in 1972. “Until this race, I haven’t spent a lot of time promoting what I’ve been doing in this job,” he admits in an interview. “But I’ve changed my nature. I’ve had to.”
Berman says that his record of accomplishments outstrips his opponent’s. “If the voters look at my record of producing for the San Fernando Valley, it’s not a close call,” he says. He describes Sherman as a grandstander who prefers “gimmicks” to concrete achievements. “The man has been there 15 years,” Berman says. “He’s written three bills that have passed, and two of them named post offices.”
Sherman and Berman represent the tension between the Valley’s insularity and cosmopolitanism. Home to 1.5 million residents and separated from the rest of L.A. by a mountain range, the Valley was the quintessential post-war commuter suburb. Its identity has remained distinct from the rest of Los Angeles—more spread out, more relaxed, less glitzy. Valley culture gave birth to Valley Girls in the ‘80s and to voter discontent that, a decade ago, spawned a secession movement that failed.