In this November’s national election, not every Congressional race worth watching is the typical according-to-script fight between a Republican and a Democratic challenger, or vice versa. One such race worth watching pits two incumbent Democrats against each other in a rather blue Los Angeles-area district. It is also an early test of California’s non-partisan redistricting and new primary process.
Rep. Howard Berman has represented the 26th, then 28th, Congressional district of California since 1983. His rival Brad Sherman was first elected to Congress for a term that began in 1997. In the wake of the latest Congressional redistricting, they are vying for a new combined district which contains roughly twice as much of Sherman’s old district as of Berman’s.
This is where it gets interesting – rather than a general election contest between a Republican and a Democrat, California’s new primary process pits the top two vote-getters against each other in November. In this case, Berman vs. Sherman. Despite a shared party affiliation and rhyming last names, they really represent voters with a stark choice. Berman has a long record of forging cross-aisle commitments and accomplishments, including some of direct interest to the green industry. He has a reputation as a tough but honest negotiator. He was the leading Democrat in the negotiations that led to ratification of the AgJOBS immigration reform legislation. He bucked the unions in supporting numerous trade agreements that have been good for much of American agriculture and our international relationships. And, as chairman and now ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs committee, he has for years been a respected go-to guy on everything from securing Russian nukes to stabilizing the Middle East. Sherman, by contrast, has a vastly thinner Congressional resume. Though he serves on the Financial Services and Foreign Affairs Committees, he has little in the way of signature legislative accomplishments.
Counter intuitively, Berman’s path to potential victory will be shaped by his ability to attract Republican voters. If he holds a good chunk of his more moderate Democratic voters, and gets the bulk of the Republican vote, he wins. So it is an election that Republicans may well decide, in a decidedly Democratic district. Moreover, Berman has been endorsed by a number of prominent Southern California Republicans, including Reps. Darrell Issa, Ed Royce, and Elton Gallegly. A growing number of businesses and trade organizations are supporting Berman, as well.
As our politics have become more and more polarized, traditional party primaries have tended to select more extreme candidates, whether liberal or conservative. This is because the most activist party members wield the most influence in the primaries. By contrast, the new California process may result in the election of the more moderate candidate, one who is respected on both sides of the aisle, in what is a very “safe” Democratic district. That would be more than an interesting outcome for political junkies; it might be at least a bit of relief from the polarization and gridlock gripping Washington.