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

Howard Berman and Brad Sherman launch scathing TV ads in congressional campaign

The congressional battle between two Democrats in the Western San Fernando Valley that some call “the ugliest race in America” is now playing out on TV with new attack ads.

One from Congressman Howard Berman focuses on his physical confrontation with Congressman Brad Sherman during last week’s debate at Pierce College. The ad shows Sherman swinging his arm around Berman.  It also cites a Washington Magazine article that said Sherman was one of the meanest members of Congress.

“Ineffective. Mean. And Too Angry,” proclaims the ad.  “Brad Sherman is just not fit to represent us.”

Sherman has expressed regret for the debate outburst. “This was not wise.”

The Sherman attack ad features cardboard cutouts of Berman in a Hawaiian shirt traveling the world.  It accuses him of taking 146 trips “paid for by taxpayers, corporations, and special interests” during his 40 years in elected office in Sacramento and Washington D.C.

Last week, the Berman camp released a letter from former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Madeleine Albright defending his travel. The letter read, in part:

"Nothing could be more misleading, in this global era, than to suggest that members of Congress should not travel when there is important work to be accomplished.”

Both candidates have been buying time on cable, which is cheaper than broadcast outlets. Political advertising disclosure reports posted by Time Warner Cable indicate Berman and Sherman are employing different strategies with their ads. Berman appears to be buying more expensive time slots. For example, one 30-second ad on the home design network HGTV between 8 p.m. and midnight cost $598.

Sherman, on the other hand, appears to be purchasing more ads that run at less popular times.  They are cheaper because fewer people see them. One 30-second ad on VH1 between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m., for example, costs $7. Sherman's buying more expensive ads too, but the former certified public accountant appears to favor volume. You get more ads when you buy cheap.

It also looks like Sherman is spending more money on TV than Berman. He certainly has more of it. A spokesman said the campaign has $1.8 million on hand — upwards of four times what Berman has banked.

The fact that Sherman has more money, and that half of his old district overlaps with the new one — meaning more voters are familiar with him — gives him a huge advantage. Sherman finished first in the June primary.  One early poll showed him with a double-digit lead.

The Berman campaign this week sought to change the narrative by releasing a telephone survey that showed Sherman with a six-point lead. “Brad Sherman is in a free fall,” said Brandon Hall, senior advisor to Berman.

The Sherman campaign shot back, citing a poll of its own that showed he had a whopping 25-point lead. “Congressman Brad Sherman remains the likely winner of the election in the new 30th Congressional District,” a campaign memo said.

The race between the two Democratic incumbents, who differ little on the issues, is one of the most expensive in the country. The two camps and a political action committee for Berman may spend nearly $10 million by Election Day.