Two House races in Southern California will match incumbent Democrats running against each other in November after primary contests Tuesday.
Janice Hahn, 60, a freshman lawmaker, will oppose three-term Representative Laura Richardson, 50, in one of the redrawn congressional districts. In the other, Howard Berman, 71, who has served 15 terms in Congress, will be challenged by Brad Sherman, 57, who is seeking his ninth term.
Thrown together by redistricting, each pair finished one-two in their respective primaries and qualified for the November ballot. In California’s new open "jungle" primary system, the top two finishers move on to the general election regardless of party affiliation.
Sherman finished first on Tuesday with 42 percent of the vote to Berman’s 32 percent, according to the Associated Press. Hahn and Richardson were the only candidates in their district. Hahn had 60 percent to 40 percent for Richardson.
First elected in 1982, Berman is the senior Democrat on the House Foreign Relations Committee and is the second-ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. Sherman, one of a handful of certified public accountants in Congress, was first elected in 1996. He also serves on the House Foreign Relations and the Financial Services panels.
While the two have similar voting records, there are some policy differences. Berman “has the majority of the hardcore pro-Israel crowd on his side,” according to the Cook Political Report. He supported the 2008 Troubled Asset Relief Program, which Sherman opposed.
Berman and Sherman spent $5.5 million combined through May 16, making their race the most expensive in the nation to pit one incumbent against another, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based research group that tracks campaign spending.
Allan Hoffenblum, publisher of the California Target Book of political analysis, predicted there will be as many as 34 congressional and legislative contests in California that feature candidates from the same party in November. That may weaken the influence of labor unions in the Democratic Party and anti-tax Tea Party activists in the Republican Party, he said.
“The candidates selected will be representative of the district as a whole and not just holding to the far right or far left of their base party,” Hoffenblum said.
Many California districts were redrawn to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act, designed to promote representation for racial minorities.
Democrats view California as vital to their strategy of picking up seats in the House. In a memo on Wednesday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said it sees the opportunity to pick up four to six U.S. House seats representing California after redistricting caused more Republican-held seats to be competitive in the Democrat-dominated state. The party is also seeking to gain seats in Illinois and New York.
While 47 percent of the district in which Richardson is running is composed of her current constituents, Hahn has strong name recognition as a former Los Angeles City councilwoman and daughter of a popular former mayor, according to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
Hahn’s former district was chopped into three parts with areas represented by Richardson and Democratic Representatives Maxine Waters and Henry Waxman.
Last year, Hahn won a special election to replace Jane Harman, who resigned from the House to head the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, a Washington policy group. Hahn lost a run for lieutenant governor in 2010 against San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. The new district is 28 percent black and 49 percent Hispanic. Hahn was endorsed by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Richardson is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee for allegedly requiring some staff members to work on her 2010 re-election campaign. After the probe was announced last November, Richardson said the committee was unjustly targeting her while ignoring similar, well-publicized allegations against other members of Congress. Richardson has denied wrongdoing.
Sherman is running in a district that includes about 80 percent of his current constituents compared with 20 percent for Berman, according to the Cook Political Report.
Republican Mark Reed finished third behind Sherman and Berman in yesterday’s primary.
Berman has the support of California Gov. Jerry Brown, Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, Villaraigosa, the Service Employees International Union and Hollywood insiders Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg. Sherman was endorsed by former President Bill Clinton and some smaller unions.
The race, according to the Cook report, could be a test of how much voters value endorsements at a time when congressional approval ratings are at historic lows.
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