The two Democratic House veterans battling in what has become one of the costliest and most contentious congressional races in the state continued to pound each other as the race headed into its final weekend. But they also had some positive messages for voters who might be weary of all the negativity.
Volunteers for Rep. Howard Berman planned to fan out throughout the San Fernando Valley’s 30th District to distribute a double-message door hanger. One side features a photo of an angry Sherman reaching for Berman when things got physical at a Pierce College debate earlier this month. The flip side takes an entirely different tack — it shows Berman when he was invited to join President Obama at a fundraiser earlier this year and lists some of Berman’s endorsers, including Gov. Jerry Brown, both of California’s U.S. senators, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the Los Angeles Times and the L.A. Daily News. One of Berman’s final two mailers strikes similar themes, and the other provides a chart comparing the two congressmen’s records.
Berman’s weekend will be divided between get-out-the-vote activities at his campaign headquarters and contacting voters by attending farmers markets, house parties and a Day of the Dead festival, said campaign strategist Brandon Hall.
Hall believes more than one-quarter of voters still haven’t made up their minds and could make the difference if most of them go for the same candidate.
“We’re focusing on those voters and making our case that Howard is by far the more accomplished” of the two lawmakers. “I think we have made the case,” Hall added, that while the two have similar voting records, “you could not have two more dissimilar people in temperament and substance.”
Sherman, who has made a career of attending community events and holding “town hall” meetings with constituents, is spending much of the final weekend calling supporters to be sure they cast ballots. Campaign spokesman John Schwada said Sherman and volunteers have been averaging 1,500 calls a day recently.
Schwada said Sherman currently is airing two cable TV ads, one a positive piece about his family and accomplishments for constituents and another slamming Berman for travels abroad financed by taxpayers or special interests. The last piece of campaign mail will land in mailboxes over the weekend, but Schwada wouldn’t say what it contains.
Sherman has campaigned on his accessibility and visibility at community events and has tried to turn Berman’s long list of endorsements from national political figures on both sides of the aisle into a shortcoming.
“Brad is the voice of the Valley and Howard Berman is the voice of outsiders,” said Schwada.
But Hall said Berman’s backing from such Republican stalwarts as Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina show Berman’s ability to command respect across the political spectrum and to work with members of both parties to get things done. “Our job is to make people understand what Howard’s record is,” Hall said.
Nor do the two camps agree on the significance of the Pierce College dust-up. During a particularly heated argument at the candidates forum, Berman, shouting “You’re wrong! You”re wrong,” moved close to Sherman, who clutched him by shoulders and yelled, “You want to get into this?!” The incident was caught on video, posted on YouTube and made news on both coasts. It was used by the Berman campaign in mail and a TV ad questioning Sherman’s temperament.
The Sherman campaign responded with a mailer saying the whole thing was blown out of proportion: “About five seconds of conflict in a heated year-long campaigns. Is this an important issue? No.”
But the Berman camp thinks it could be a game-changer, a “defining moment,” Hall called it.
Voters, of course, will decide which view is right.
Photo: Reps. Howard Berman, left and Brad Sherman at a candidates forum earlier this year. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times