Calif.’s Democrat-vs.-Democrat, Berman-Sherman contest may be nation’s nastiest

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So far, the edge appears to go to Mr. Sherman, who bested his rival in the May primary by 10 percentage points and continues to lead in the polls. Analysts chalk up his edge in part to the contours of the redrawn district, which includes as much as 70 percent of Mr. Sherman’s former west San Fernando Valley district and little of Mr. Berman’s north valley base.

With no Republican in the race, Mr. Berman, 71, has moved to win over GOP voters by touting his bipartisan support. Now the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, he has the backing of Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham and Rep. Darrell E. Issa.

Mr. Sherman, 57, can’t compete with his rival’s long list of high-profile endorsements, although he did hook one big kahuna in former President Bill Clinton. Mr. Sherman endorsed Mr. Clinton’s wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, in her 2008 presidential primary battle with Barack Obama. Mr. Berman backed Mr. Obama.

The heated exchange last week — some thought the two men might even come to blows — became the subject of a Berman attack ad released Wednesday. The 30-second spot shows video footage from the debate and says, “Brad Sherman claims to have our values. But now we know that he’s ineffective, mean and too angry. Brad Sherman is just not fit to represent us.”

The Sherman campaign issued a statement accusing the Berman camp of editing out the start of the kerfuffle, which started “when Berman began yelling that Sherman was a liar and delusional. Berman then went over to Sherman’s table and confronted Sherman nose to nose.”

“The Pierce College debate was not conducted at the highest level. I regret my part in allowing emotions to distract from the exchange of views,” Mr. Sherman said in a statement after the debate.

The Sherman camp swung back Thursday with an ad criticizing Mr. Berman for his political junkets and subsequent missed votes, charging that “Howard Berman has taken more free trips than just about anyone in Congress.”

With 23 congressional races between them, both candidates know how to close the sale. Look for the campaigns to jack up the intensity in the weeks before the Nov. 6 election, Mr. Hoffenblum said.

“Right now, Sherman is ahead, but I know the Berman organization. They believe no one pays attention to the election until the last 14 days,” he said. “So I’m expecting a large flood of mailers and ads at the end.”

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