Represent! | Politics, government and public life for Southern California

California's "top two" election creates rare phenomenon: cross party endorsements

Congressman Howard Berman, left, has won endorsements from two GOP U.S. Senators in his runoff against fellow Democrat Brad Sherman.
Congressman Howard Berman, left, has won endorsements from two GOP U.S. Senators in his runoff against fellow Democrat Brad Sherman.
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California's "top two" primary is rewriting the rules for political endorsements. 

There are several Congressional races in Southern California where voters will choose between two Democrats or two Republicans on the November ballot. That's because the top two finishers in the June primary — regardless of party — face off in the general election.

The most expensive and contentious race is in the San Fernando Valley, where Congressman Howard Berman faces off against fellow Democratic Congressman Brad Sherman. 

Berman has snagged a number of top Democrats as backers: Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, Governor Jerry Brown, and two dozen members of California's Congressional delegation. Today, he announced he's got some new endorsements: Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Both are Republicans. 

Berman's campaign calls them "respected national security leaders and prominent Israel defenders."  Graham touts Berman's foreign policy strengths, saying he's been "instrumental in passing laws to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons;" McCain says they've worked together on everything from "human rights to missile defense."

University of California political science professor Marc Sandelow says endorsing someone from another party is highly unusual.  He says Ohio Governor John Kasich, then a GOP member of Congress, was invited in the 1990’s to a fundraising breakfast for then-Congressman Gary Condit of California’s Central Valley. "It was a national outcry," he says.  "Republicans were furious with Kasich."  And state Republicans pointedly did NOT invite him to California's GOP Party Convention. 

But Berman’s not the only candidate reaching across the aisle for endorsements. A spokesman for Berman’s rival says Democratic Congressman Brad Sherman will match “our Republicans against his any day.”  Sherman counts LA City Councilman Mitchell Englander and his predecessor Greg Smith – both Republicans – as supporters. 

Nearly a third of the district’s voters are registered without any party affiliation.  But UC’s Marc Sandelow says the cross-party phenomenon will likely now be repeated every election because that seat will remain reliably Democratic. He says if there was a prospect that any Democrat would face a Republican in this district, "I don't think they'd get away with this."

It’s not just Democrats reaching across the aisle.  In the Inland Empire, Republican Congressman Gary Miller cites endorsements from Rancho Cucamonga City Councilman Bill Alexander and Rialto Mayor Grace Vargas -- both Democrats.  Miller’s opponent, Republican State Senator Bob Dutton, has been endorsed by State Senator Lou Correa and San Bernadino Mayor Pat Morris – also both Democrats.

So while party brand is front and center on Capitol Hill, California’s “top two” primary is smudging the lines between Democrats and Republicans – at least until after election day.