Congressmen Howard Berman and Brad Sherman Tuesday faced off in an often sharply worded debate at Temple Judea in Tarzana. Redistricting has landed the two incumbent Democrats in the same San Fernando Valley district, touching off one of the hottest Congressional races in the country.
Berman is a 30-year veteran of Congress who is endorsed by many of the party's establishment, including Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. Boxer on Tuesday said Sherman's "outrageous" mailer that tried to connect Berman to the San Bruno pipeline explosion prompted her to end her neutrality.
At the debate, Berman fashioned himself as the more pragmatic candidate.
"I’m focused on trying to get things accomplished in Washington. I’m less interested in self-promotion," Berman told KPCC afterwards. "If you want something to happen to help the Valley, to help Los Angeles, I’m the guy you want to go to.”
Sherman said Berman, whose old district runs more toward Beverley Hills and Malibu, is out of touch with the San Fernando Valley.
“He is a distinguished, very senior member of Congress and I respect him as an individual," Sherman said. "It's just on issue after issue his stances don’t reflect Valley values."
Sherman, who has served in Congress since 1997, highlighted his opposition to the stimulus bill, the Iraq War troop surge, and free trade deals as evidence of how he and Berman differ. He chastised Berman for refusing to sign a pledge to prevent super PAC political committees from influencing the campaign.
Berman, who could benefit more from super PAC money, called the pledge a "gimmick."
Both men pledged their support to Israel before a largely Jewish audience. But Sherman accused Berman of weakening sanctions against Iran designed to prevent it from building a nuclear weapon. Berman said sanctions needed more international time to work.
In a race that's seen its share of nasty exchanges, Berman accused Sherman of "inventing the truth" when it came to describing Berman's positions. Sherman said he was "speaking the truth."
The race has frustrated some in the Democratic Party.
"I'm angry that two Democrats are running against each other, spending millions of dollars, when we could have used that money to elect other Democrats," Congressman Henry Waxman said. He supports Berman, an old college friend.
"I blame Brad Sherman because he could have run in a Ventura County district, parts of what he represented in the past," Waxman said.
“The Berman campaign knows that there was no chance for me to move to Ventura County," Sherman said. That district tilts heavily Republican.
Businessman Mark Reed is also running for the 30th Congressional seat. He is a Republican who owns a number of businesses and ran for Congress once before.
"The election is not about Congressman Sherman or Berman, Republican or Democrat, Jewish or not Jewish," Reed said. He said the contest was about changing policies in Washington, "which these two men helped create."
"These two men will try to convince you that they're both proven leaders," Reed told the debate audience. "I remind you that General Custer was considered a leader by the men who followed him to their deaths."
The primary election is June 5. Under California's new open primary system, the top two candidates — regardless of party affiliation — will advance to the November election. So Howard Berman and Brad Sherman may face off again in what is traditionally a Democratic district.