Archive for 2012

Snorking Spilled Milk: Mitt Beats Down Newt

Friday, January 27th, 2012

Bottom line on Thursday night’s big Florida debate: All four Republican wannabes agree that patriotic Cuban refugees should self-deport to the moon to build an English-speaking, manufacturing-based lunar economy free of government regulation. Some quick thoughts about the event:

1-Mitt Romney won, as his new debate coach helped him to his strongest performance to date. He landed a couple of hard punches square on Newt Gingrich’s snout, as when he demanded an apology after skewing a “repulsive” (although true) TV ad attacking him as “anti-immigrant,” and finally grew a pair in defending his personal wealth. It didn’t hurt that Team Mitt managed to start the day with an orchestrated, full-bore print attack on the Grinch.

2-Gingrich screwed the pooch. When he wasn’t vainly trying to defend his new proposal to colonize the moon to make it the 51st state, he was yammering about his nitwit position on immigration by accusing Romney of being against grandmothers. And he looked an utter fool when Romney pointed out that his own investment portfolio includes mutual funds invested in  Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, one minute after Newt went all high horse about Mittens buying stock in the mortgage giants. (Gingrich photo by Shutterstock)

3-Rick Santorum put on the best performance of the debate. Not that it matters, but he was articulate, factual and persuasive on issues from underwater mortgages to Puerto Rican statehood, and his sustained take-down of Romney on health care was masterful. In the end, however, any votes his flagging campaign wins will come out of Newt’s hide, so the net effect of his good night was to help Mitt.

4-Ron Paul got off the best line of the night. With Cuba politics front and center in Florida, he was asked how he would respond as president if contacted by Raul Castro: “I’d ask him why he was calling,” Uncle Ron responded, his only answer of the night that didn’t mention the Fed or the gold standard.

5-Wolf Blitzer showed John King how it’s done. The Wolfman finally pushed back on Newt’s same old cheap trick of attacking the moderator, refusing to be bullied when Gingrich tried to duck a question about trash-talking he’d done earlier in the week about Romney’s offshore investments. Blitzer took a little booing from the audience for his trouble but in the end came out ahead in the exchange.

Calbuzz sez: Newt’s post-South Carolina momentum had already stopped in Florida and last night didn’t do anything to help him get it restarted.

 In other news: We’re still trying to catch our breath from the huge fit of projectile snorking that struck us upon hearing Romney declare in Monday’s debate that the cure for the nation’s immigration ills is “self-deportation.”

Yeah, yeah, we get that the idea is some kind of a variation on a theme of Mittens’ call to “turn off the magnets” to illegal immigration (a phrase first used by California’s own Steve “The Commish” Poizner in the 2010 governor’s race and doubtless implanted in the CPU of Robot Romney by the inestimable Stuart Stevens, strategist to the stars). But Mitt’s head-scratching explanation, after blurting it out in the middle of the debate, not only drew mockery from Gingrich but brickbats from Fox News ferhevvinsake.

In miring himself ever more steadily and deeply in the tar pit of immigration, Romney reminds us of no one so much as his BFF Meg Whitman, another 2010 vet, who tried to win election by blowharding her way to the GOP nomination for governor with a hard-line stance on the issue before desperately trying to get back on the center in the general.

Like eMeg, Mitt’s failure to articulate a serious proposal for a path to citizenship, on which he doubled down Thursday night, all but ensures he’ll keep the Republicans’ Prop. 187 jinx with Latino voters intact for another cycle; you know you’re in trouble when even Gingrich sounds more reasonable on the topic.

A spine of steel: Sadly for Mitt, immigration is just one of many ways his juggernaut resembles eMeg’s Evil Empire, as Calbuzz cartoonist Tom Meyer doodles today.


For starters, there’s their shared, fundamentally flawed premise that voters are just pining for a Wall Street-fueled zillionaire to take over the government. Add to that the ease with which, without blinking, they air ads and peddle charges that are simply and demonstrably not true, not to mention the distaste and distrust with which the GOP right-wing base view their candidacies. Throw in the awkwardness with which they both  deal with personal finance disclosures and revelations, plus their unerring abilities to change stances on key issues in a jiffy, and it’s hard to tell where Her Megness ends and Mittens begins.

Secret memo to Mitt: Don’t make the biggest eMeg mistake of all – contact us immediately to set up dinner with Calbuzz. Call now – before it’s too late!

Final thoughts on SOTU: That was one politically adept  speech President Obama delivered the other night. It was about 25 minutes too long for our taste, but as Bill Clinton proved in 1994, voters are willing to hang in with a State of the Union address, even if media ADD starts kicking in a the 15 minute mark. The Calbuzz 10-second analysis:

1-I killed Bin Laden.
2-I saved GM.
3-Can’t we all just get along?
4-Fuck the Republicans.
5-Did I mention I killed Bin Laden?

Pugnacious if not defiant, Obama touched all the bases in framing the 2012 campaign: he clearly defined the race as being about fairness, not the deficit, introduced a bunch of Actual Facts about the economy after months of unhinged Republican attacks and dismissed warmongering assaults on his foreign policy as the ranting of people “who don’t know what they’re talking about.” Did you know he killed Bin Laden?

That said, we did have a few bones to pick.

His turd-in-the-punchbowl joke about “spilled milk,” of course, was breathtakingly stupid and astonishingly ill timed. It broke his momentum and rhythm while undercutting any claim to seriousness he might have staked in co-opting the GOP on the issue of government over-regulation. Jon Stewart nailed it by showing Michelle Obama’s facial reaction, which just screamed, “I TOLD you it’s not funny.”

More substantively, we were troubled by the last few grafs, in which Obama tried to make the case that American politics should reflect the disciplined values of Navy SEALS – “This nation is great because we worked as a team. This nation is great because we get each other’s backs” – which left us wondering if his second term would find us all donning those brown North Korean military visor caps and lining up to parade Dear Leader, a point that also piqued Andrew Sullivan:

This notion that a country, a democracy, should have the same attitude as troops fighting a war is preposterous and slightly creepy. Yes, we should put aside our differences to get important things done, put aside ideology to focus on solving problems. But we are not a military and the president is not our commander. He is our president. We have every right to argue with one another and to distrust one another at times. The whole idea of getting each other’s backs in a boisterous democracy is deeply undemocratic. I do not want to be a citizen trained like a member of the Navy SEALs. Nor should anyone. This isn’t Sparta. It’s America.

And at least for the tiny percentage of Calbuzz staffers who weren’t founding members of Venceremos, the sheer scope and number of expanded government proposals, programs and tax breaks Obama set forth put us in surprised agreement with some reflexively conservative critics:

Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.

Little Pulitzer of the week: Nice piece of Investigative Punditry by Joel Fox for his smart essay raising the question of what form of baying-at-the-moon madness overtook Speaker John Perez and Senate leader Darrel Steinberg to make them file a lawsuit challenging Prop. 25 on behalf of poor defenseless and put-upon legislators who didn’t get paid when they couldn’t manage to pass a budget on time.

“Fundamentally an issue of separation of powers,” indeed.



Calbuzz Panel: Newt Could Win, Then Crush the GOP

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

With Mitt Romney demonstrating all the verve of an attack mouse, not to mention his tax returns, off-shore bank accounts and serial flip-flops, members of our Calbuzz Consultanate are reconsidering that in-the-bag nomination they predicted just a couple of weeks ago. But they almost unanimously agree with our assessment that Newt Gingrich might win the GOP nomination but not the White House.

It’s not just that Mitt comes across like an insincere, consultant-crafted hollow man, it’s that he seems unable to capture and express the visceral rage – justified or not – that Grinch finds so easy to personify with his attacks on media elites and Washington insiders, even though he is one himself.

What worries the Republicans and delights the Democrats on our Calbuzz Advisory Board of Leading Authorities on Practically Everything is that should Grinch win the nomination, he would crash the Grand Old Party.

Here’s how one conservative Republican on our panel put it, in what you might call emphatic terms:

Gingrich ran for president to sell more books and boost his speaking fees. He has done far better than expected because of Romney’s numerous weaknesses and the utter ridiculousness of the rest of the GOP field. Gingrich is a personally and professionally corrupt, self-indulgent, reckless, hypocritical, arrogant megalomaniac. Other than that he’s a great guy.

He is such an unpresidential blowhard that landslide losers Goldwater and McGovern look like George Washington and Abe Lincoln in comparison. Will Republican primary voters blow a key moment in the nation’s history and re-elect the clearly vulnerable Obama by nominating Gingrich? I don’t think so. But if I’m wrong, Obama will win big, Republicans will fail to win the Senate and lose the House.

Not to put too fine a point on it.

Not all of the Republican consultants are ready to write Grinch off so easily. One even thinks Doughboy would take President Obama in debates (a prospect we find implausible).

Holy shit, never thought I’d see it.  The wheels came off Gingrich’s campaign early, his top advisers quit and the pundits (me included) filed him away under “the walking dead.” Now two powerful debate performances later, and he’s poised to win Florida.  Can he win the nomination? Certainly looks possible.  

What’s that mean for November? Hard to say, but he could be far more daunting than many think.  He’s smart, passionate about America and a ferocious campaigner.  My guess is that he’d eat Obama alive in the debates, and that his personal baggage would ultimately matter as little as Reverend Wright did last time around.  His biggest challenge would be convincing people he’s not nuts.  If he clears that hurdle, he could well be president. Of course, if Gingrich loses in Florida, he’ll be back among the walking dead, this time for good.

“Convincing people he’s not nuts” could indeed be a huge hurdle. Because, as Jacob Weisberg argued in Slate a while back, he just might be with his bouts of grandiosity, megalomania, irritability and impulsiveness. Of course, even that might not matter, if he keeps channeling his inner George Wallace, if Rick Santorum drops out and throws his support to him and if Romney continues to be . . . well . . . er . . . Romney.

This sent a thrill up the legs of some Democrats on our panel. To wit:

Newt can win the nomination because the base continues to reject Romney.  He cannot win the general election. Newt has almost 100% name ID and 60% give Newt negative ratings. Newt cannot change that reality.

Or this:

Newt’s uncanny ability to win over voters in debates is both impressive and unprecedented and helps neutralize Romney’s money and organizational advantages. So don’t count Newt out. And if Santorum drops out, his socially conservative supporters will likely go more to Newt than Romney, so another advantage for Newt. Bottom line: it’s great news for Obama and Democrats, regardless of the outcome, as every Republican candidate is getting more and more tarnished, especially with swing voters.

So here, for your reading pleasure, are the rest of the comments from our brilliant consultants.


— In a presidential primary, one can never say never, so Newt does have a chance. However, if he were to win the primary, Republicans would have no chance of defeating President Barack Obama and likely face serious problems in state elections due to a weak nominee and substandard campaign.  In hindsight, following the election, Gingrich will likely be remembered as the worst nominee ever put forward by the GOP.

— Yes, Newt Gingrich can win the Republican nomination. He is the only electable Republican candidate that is articulating the core feelings of the average GOP voter; a desire to keep Obama accountable and to unapologetically stand up for their principles. Republican voters know Newt has had his share of battle wounds from years in the public arena, but voters hope that will make him tougher, a better contender against the  political force that is Barack Obama.

Conservative voters remember Newt for his latest incarnation, the GOP’s ideas man, the man focused on creating “American Solutions.” Going into Florida we have a different ball game, and a unique political situation. In Florida, the economy is the number one issue but given the state’s stark diversity and 10 media markets ($$$), candidates must walk a fine line in hopes of attracting likely GOP voters statewide. Florida can be Newt’s to win, he has enough red meat to appeal to conservative working class voters in the Northern part of the state, connect with business types in the central region, attract Seniors and, given his more moderate views in immigration, he can possibly win the Hispanic Republican vote, which constitutes about 11% of the Republican Party. Florida is a representation of America, if you win Florida you can win nationally.

— Newt Gingrich will not be the nominee and here’s why: Newt Gingrich has that classic Achilles heel of politics — he thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room and believes his own spin, both of which will undermine his ability to stay focused and disciplined. He was both unfocused and undisciplined as Speaker, presiding over scandals and ethics violations. Many who served with him in the Congress can and will come forward with factual examples of his lack of leadership and discipline.  

— Sure Newt COULD win. I still don’t think he’s likely to, in the long run.  If he’s the nominee, then Obama, assuming he doesn’t get caught with a young boy or a Billy Goat, will almost certainly be re-elected.  I do not however believe it will cost the GOP the House majority or a potential Senate majority.  In fact, it may empower ticket splitting which many swing voters would prefer to do.

— Clearly, Republicans aren’t ready to commit to a frontrunner (and, who can blame them; it’s only January). That said, I don’t think Newt will play as well west of the Mississippi as he’s playing south of the Mason Dixon Line. He’s feeding a frustrated Republican electorate some really juicy red meat but if he makes it even close to the finish line, the vicious, scorched-earth rants will turn off independent voters – who are still likely to be the key to winning in November.

— Given this year and this (challenged) group of candidates, yes Newt could win the nomination. Not likely, but certainly possible. If Newt were to be the leading contender for the nomination, I believe many would view the nominee as a disaster that could cost GOP the House AND their prospects in the Senate…Thus, there might be an effort to recruit a late entry into the race. Also, Gingrich as nominee, fait accompli, could create more interest in an independent ticket via Americans Elect…weak Romney will have that effect as well.

— Yes he can, but the advantage is still with Romney. Romney has money and organization in caucus states.   Newt needs Santorum to drop out sooner rather than later. Who knows what it means for the GOP.  In this election, I am not sure the old rules apply.

— Yes he can if Romney continues to feed doubts about his electability and Newt avoids gaffes that raise those doubts about him. I doubt Newt can carry swing states like Ohio, New Hampshire, Iowa, New Mexico but he presents an even greater risk of cratering to a landslide loss and losing the House majority with erratic statements and ethics issues.


— Newt Gingrich cannot win the nomination, but we Democrats would love it if he did. A Gingrich nomination would be the height of hilarity and would secure Democratic control of the White House for the next four years.  

— Chris Christie was right when he said Newt has embarrassed the party and probably will again. The question is when? He could easily derail his own campaign again, and there isn’t time to recover any more. His odds of winning the nomination are less than 50/50, but Romney is so unlikeable and so unliked by his own party that it is entirely plausible for a majority of Republicans to choose a candidate who will die a principled death in the general election instead of watching Mitt go John Kerry all over the place. If Newt wins, he loses in a blowout and takes the Tea Party with him

— Gingrich isn’t going to win the GOP nomination but he can be strong enough to cripple GOP chances of winning in November.  Many are citing this as a classic heart vs head GOP election like Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan in 1976 and that ended with Jimmy Carter in the White House.

— This GOP primary is nuts! Not quite like the epic 2008 Dem primary btw Obama and Hillary, but it’s getting pretty darn close to that level of excitement and drama. Newt’s come-from-behind win over Romney in SC was very reminiscent of Hillary’s win in NH over Obama in the swiftness and impact of the comeback. Mitt’s inability to close the deal is very similar to Obama’s problem in sealing the deal in ’08. But, like Obama, Romney has more money and organization and is running against a very polarizing figure.

Ultimately, Romney should be able to pull this out. Map it out – Florida is next (where many voters already voted before the SC primary so Romney could lock in his advantage and his money and organization will likely carry him through), Nevada (lots of Mormons here – big advantage to Romney), Michigan (Romney won it last time and his dad served as governor), and Virginia (where Newt won’t even be on the ballot). So, like Obama did in ’08, Romney should have a very good February and that should give him a solid lead and regain momentum, even if he has to fight through April or May to win this.

Nevertheless, a week ago we were all saying “put a fork in this thing”, but now, not so fast, as Romney’s weaknesses have now been badly exposed . . . But to answer your key question, if Newt is the nominee, he will alienate too many swing voters to win and he will not be able to raise the money or put the organization together to compete effectively with Obama in multiple states at once. Furthermore, w/ only three presidential debates, he won’t have the regular opportunity on that platform to blast Obama. Though he is dangerous and would cause Obama, who has never shown a true killer instinct, real problems. Newt has been counted out at least two times now and he is like the Energizer bunny – he keeps going and going.

— Newt could win the nomination, but that reality is more a reflection on the weakness and phoniness of Mitt Romney than on the relative strengths of Gingrich. Romney just comes off as an inauthentic posturer and temporizer, as well as a soulless mechanical man, when GOP voters are looking for passion and strength. And Romney on the attack looks particularly uncomfortable and forced, so if he goes too far in trying to ravage Gingrich, it could exacerbate his underlying problem.

— I have to answer yes, something I wouldn’t have done a few days ago.  I think the primaries will now go on for quite a while and Newt will pick up steam in Florida.  It is more a question of if Romney can right his flailing campaign than can Newt win at this point. It is just incredible that Romney was caught so flat-footed on issues that he had to know would come up in the campaign. Newt’s ability to capitalize on them, his debates, and his rhetoric seem perfect for parts of Florida. But Romney should do well in many other states that remain. This is so much fun to watch! 

Since you could never have convinced me that at this point Newt would still be standing, it is hard to say what it means in November.  Logic seems to say that Obama wins if Newt is the candidate.  But, there is a large enough block of votes that does not want Obama to have a second term that it is just hard to predict this right now.

— Possible, but still not likely, as Romney has a hold on the party apparatus and will receive many delegates from the inside game.  If Gingrich were to get the nomination he would be a modern equivalent of Horace Greeley in 1872.

— The two biggest problems for Newt right now are his lack of organization in upcoming primary states and his master talent for self-destruction.  If he can manage to avoid the latter, he may just be able to overcome the former.  If Mitt doesn’t get his sea legs in Florida, he could be done.  And if Newt is the nominee, Barack Obama is the luckiest guy in politics since Gray Davis got Bill Simon as his opponent in his re-elect.

— Newt lacks the organization and the demeanor to win the Republican nomination.  South Carolina Republicans still support slavery and believe the world is flat.  If Obama were lucky enough to have Newt as his opponent it would be like Barry Goldwater all over again.  Come on Newt.

— Didn’t you hear the chant at the South Carolina victory party?  “Newt can win, Newt can win.”  Of course, they were only chanting about the nomination. Newt’s inflammatory rhetoric is working — he’s set the base on fire.  If that translates into dollars, and Newt can avoid self-destructing, he could win the nomination.

History is full of examples of presidential frontrunners having to vigorously defend their lead in the primary season. Think back to Carter v. Kennedy, Mondale v. Hart, Kerry v. Dean, Clinton v. Obama. Most frontrunners fight through a long primary season and survive, so it is too early to count Romney out. Newt is tossing aside caution and the rulebook, which says that you should never lose sight of the moderate swing voter while running in a primary.  Newt could check with Meg Whitman if he doesn’t get how dangerous his strategy is.  He’s recklessly running for the nomination without thinking about the end game and the moderate voters that make the difference.

The latest FOX poll shows that Newt’s approach is having an impact — his negative rating with the general electorate is 56 percent.  That means the American people are getting to know Newt, and they just don’t like him. That’s one of the reasons why Obama is even more certain to win reelection if the Republicans nominate Newt. But it sure would be fun to watch.

Berman v. Sherman: Politics v. politics in CD 30

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

[See updates below]

It’s tough to improve on the capsule summary of the race between Howard Berman and Brad Sherman in California’s 30th Congressional District offered up by our friend Gene Maddaus at the LA Weekly: A battle “to determine which bald, Jewish Democrat who voted for the Iraq War will continue to represent the San Fernando Valley.”

Which helps explain why the Jewish Journal, the largest landsman weekly in the U.S. outside of New York, has labeled Jonah Lowenfeld’s smart blog on the race “Berman v. Sherman: Two Jews, One District.”

As Danielle Berrin, who writes JJ’s “Hollywood Jew” blog, put it: “It’s a lose-lose for Jews. We have two and now we’re going to have one.”

For the rest of California, the race in the new 30th CD – which is 49% Democrat, 26% Republican and 21% decline-to-state – means the loss of one liberal (on most issues) member of the House with considerable seniority. Both Democrats are likely to make it to the November run-off election under the new top-two system, which would kick the real campaign down the road several months.

There are clear differences, between the two congressmen: Berman is a member of Adat Ari El and Sherman attends Valley Beth Shalom. (Both are Conservative congregations, btw.)

Shame on us: Actually, that’s not fair to either of them (and we criticize ourselves severely for our utter lack of menschlichkeit). Berman, 70, has more hair, served eight years in the California Assembly and is a 30-year veteran in Congress. Sherman, 57, genetically a CPA, served on the Board of Equalization five years and has been in the House 16 years.

More important, Berman, “one of the most creative members of the House and one of the most clear-sighted operators in American politics” according to the Almanac of American Politics, is the Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, having served as chairman when the Democrats controlled Congress. He’s endorsed by  Gov. Jerry Brown, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and 22! members of Congress from California, has former Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s “unofficial” support and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is doing a fund-raiser for him in D.C.

He’s the darling of the entertainment industry in Hollywood (which, in L.A., means jobs, not cultural elitism) and a genuine macher in Washington.

With his brother Michael, of the Berman & D’Agostino campaign consulting firm, Howard has been a fixture in California Democratic Party politics for decades. As Big Dan Walters wrote:  “In 1980, Berman, then a state assemblyman, tried to oust fellow Democrat Leo McCarthy, who had become speaker six years earlier. That led to a year-long conflict that eventually ended in a draw. Willie Brown — whom McCarthy had defeated for speaker in 1974 — succeeded his old rival, elected over Berman by McCarthy Democrats and Republicans.”

Divided labor support: Berman has the support of the Service Employees International Union and a couple other entertainment-industry unions, along with a few super PACs, which may (it remains to be seen) spend heavily in the district. But Berman hasn’t had to run a competitive race in decades and has spent a lot more time working Washington than his home base – a challenge made worse by reapportionment because he’s not the incumbent for about three-fourths of the new district.

He’s going to have to convince voters that he got the extension of the 405 freeway declared a project of national significance so that the $130 million project could be accelerated by 10 years; that he kept Kaiser Permanente from closing its 300-bed hospital after the Northridge earthquake; and that he was the guy who transformed the Hansen Dam into a family recreation area from a gang-infested hot spot. Likely, nobody in the district has any idea about any of that.

Sherman, meanwhile, has held lots of town hall meetings, puts out lots of statements on the issues of the day and introduces lots of bills that have gone nowhere. But he claims to have been instrumental in getting funding for part of the Backbone Trail in the Santa Monica Mountains and working to get federal study funds for the Caltrans $4.7 million 101/405 interchange improvement. You want a ribbon cut or a congressman at your Rotary Club event or your Lavender Garden Club, Brad’s your guy.

Attacking evil superPACS: Hoping to turn Berman’s strength into a weakness, Sherman with obvious guidance from campaign pro Parke Skelton, is trying to make an issue of the evil super PACS by challenging Berman to refund whatever money they spend on his behalf to the U.S. Treasury. (Good luck with that, Brad.)

Sherman, who is endorsed by Bill Clinton (a Hillary debt, no doubt) and Michael Dukakis (for whom he campaigned), has only a couple of Congressional supporters, the United Steelworkers and six other unions and, significantly, the Democratic Party of the San Fernando Valley – which is not the actual California Democratic Party but which sounds like it is.

Sherman is the Ranking Member of the House Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade and he is a senior member of the Financial Services Committee. But despite what he says about himself, he’s not regarded as a serious player in Congress. He’s a constituent guy.

Rock star v. schmo? “This is not a clash of two titans,” said one Hollywood Democrat. “It’s a superstar congressman versus a schlemiel.” It would probably be unkind to describe Sherman as gum on the bottom of your shoe. But not really.

Sherman has tried to make an issue out of Berman’s support for the Iraq war but since he voted for the resolution himself – “grudgingly” he now says – it’s a tough sell. He’s also tried to make an issue of Berman support for TARP and NAFTA, both of which he opposed.

Berman and the super PACS supporting him, have yet to go negative on Sherman, but smart betting says they will argue that he’s a feckless member of Congress who has never accomplished anything of significance and whose greatest virtue is being there.

Veteran Westside LA Congressman Henry Waxman tried to convince Sherman to run in a new Ventura County district instead of the new San Fernando Valley district, arguing that while it’s not as pure a Democratic base, that Sherman could win it. “If we have this race between two Jewish Democrats, it is not because of Howard, it is because Brad chooses it,” Waxman told our old friend Bill Boyarsky. Sherman didn’t bite.

Instead he released a poll he’d commissioned from the Feldman Group, purporting to show that Sherman leads with 42%, followed by 26% for Republican businessman Mark Reed and with Berman at 17%. In the absence of any credible, neutral polling, those are the only numbers floating around, whether they’re paid-for or not.

Hollywood’s go-to guy: At the end of September, Sherman had $3.7 million in the bank and Berman had $2.3 million. But that was before Berman’s $1.6 million fundraiser at the Beverly Hilton in November, after a pitch from Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen, who wrote:

Howard has been a champion of the entertainment industry since he was first elected to Congress in 1983. As a lead member of the Judiciary Committee, he plays a key role in shaping the copyright, trademark and patent laws that are so vital to our industry. And as the top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, he has fought to strengthen aid to Israel, continue U.S. foreign assistance on global HIV/AIDS programs, and improve America’s diplomatic standing in the world.

Said event co-chair Gov. Brown at the fund-raiser: “I’ve been watching politicians for a long time, and Howard’s really one of the few people that is not fluff, that is not manipulation. What you see is what you get.”

Sherman’s attack on Berman for supporting the War in Iraq works only if Sherman can convince voters to consider his intentions, not his own actual vote.

As young Jonah Lowenfeld of the Jewish Journal wrote – after having correctly reported that “On more than one occasion, Sherman attacked Berman for supporting a bill that he himself had also voted for” – Team Brad is hot to keep the issue alive.

As Sherman pointed out at the debate (and as his campaign manager, Parke Skelton clarified in a subsequent email), Sherman supported the war resolution only grudgingly, and only after attempting to limit the mandate for war given to President George W. Bush. He introduced one amendment and supported another that would have had that effect. It appears that neither the Davis amendment nor the Sherman amendment made it out of committee—Berman voted against both of them. Ultimately, Sherman voted in favor of the resolution authorizing the Iraq war, a move he characterized at the debate as a mistake.

So, Sherman couldn’t get his own amendment out of committee – surprise! – so he voted for the measure anyway. This proves his support was grudging? Or just chicken-livered opportunism?

Berman summarized Sherman’s stand on the Iraq War at a recent forum: “I was against it before I was for it before I was against it.”

Support for Israel not in doubt: No matter who wins, the Israel lobby in Washington will have a staunch ally: both congressmen are about as pro-Israel as anyone in the House although Berman is widely regarded by supporters of the Jewish state as the more serious player in international relations and foreign aid issues.

With the top-two primary system in place this year, the first round of voting in June is no longer the end-all-be-all that it once was in a strongly Democratic district – not when there are two well-funded Democrats in the race.

Sherman appears to be gunning from the start for an early win. And given that he has represented more of the district in the past, he just might come in first in June. But that could be a trap, too.

If Sherman runs as a flame-throwing liberal — as the old rules of primary politics would dictate – he runs the risk of cutting himself off from the middle, among moderate Democrats, independents and liberal Republicans who could be crucial in a November runoff against Berman.

Campaign jiu-jitsu: All Berman has to do in that scenario is come in second in June and then, with support from his Latino friends (Latinos comprise 16% of the new district’s voting age population) and Gov. Brown (who won 57% in 2010 in the new district’s precincts), holding back his best stuff for himself and against Sherman until September or October.

Funding shouldn’t be an issue for either of them, although at the pace he’s raising cash, Berman is likely to have an advantage in the fall. And though some have estimated $10 million might get spent in this race, it’s still too expensive to advertise on broadcast TV in a congressional race. That leaves targeted cable TV, mail and the internet as the key communication tools, along with ground troops.

Sherman will try to keep the race about local, schmokel, small-p politics: who’s available for your nephew’s bar mitzvah, who’s got the Humane Society award, who gives the best town hall meeting? As one Democratic consultant put it: “Brad wants to make the race about who’s a better hack.” And if that’s the race, Sherman could win.

Berman will want to elevate the race to capital-p Politics: who’s the best advocate for the district in Congress, the most significant player in Washington, the strongest proponent for hundreds of thousands of middle-class, below-the-line, behind-the-camera Hollywood jobs?

Who defines the race, wins the seat.

UPDATE: At a district meeting over this past weekend, Sherman won more than 50% of the votes for a California Democratic Party endorsement, but not the 70% needed for a consent-calendar endorsement at the state party convention in February. So the endorsement will be taken up at a caucus at the state party convention.

UPDATE UPDATE: Sherman came in first in the June 5 primary with 35,114 votes or 42.2% and Berman ran second with 26,957 or 32.5%. Other candidates drew 20,805 votes, including Republican Mark Reed with 10,403 or 12.6%. Whichever Democrat — Sherman or Berman — can pull those votes in November has the best shot at winning the 30th CD seat.