California races form strange bedfellows

Wall Street Journal, 8/10/12.

Brad Sherman is known as one of the staunchest Democrats on Capitol Hill. But the California congressman is shopping for re-election endorsements from an unlikely source: his Republican colleagues.

Thanks to redistricting and a new state law that advanced the top two primary finishers—regardless of party—Mr. Sherman will face fellow Democratic incumbent Howard Berman in the November election in California’s newly redrawn 30th congressional district in Los Angeles.

Mr. Sherman has been endorsed by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, while Mr. Berman has picked up endorsements from Reps. Elton Gallegly and Darrell Issa. All three of the endorsers are Republicans, among a sea of Democratic endorsements from the likes of Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, for Mr. Sherman, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein for Mr. Berman.

The state’s open-primary system, which began in June, resulted from a 2010 state ballot initiative that was meant to reduce partisanship. But voters are finding an odd side effect: For the first time ever in the state, some Democrats will face other Democrats, and Republicans will be pitted against other Republicans, in their November races.

There will be eight same-party congressional races in California, according to California’s secretary of state. That is spurring those candidates to seek endorsements or other support from across the aisle. The trend also is apparent in many of the 20 same-party races in the state legislature.

“The new primary system requires a strategy to fight for every vote,” said Brandon Hall, an adviser to Mr. Berman, the Democrat running against Mr. Sherman. “It’s about finding things in Congressman Berman’s record that appeal to the voters and finding validators who can help make that case—whether it be important Republican businessmen in the district or key evangelicals representing churches or a national Republican figure.”

Mr. Berman, who authored the Dream Act to help undocumented immigrants get college loans, has trumpeted the support of Republican Michael Antonovich, a Los Angeles county supervisor who believes the children of illegal immigrants shouldn’t get citizenship even if they are born in the U.S. Mr. Antonovich said he agrees with Mr. Berman on other issues and endorsed him as a second choice after a Republican he backed lost in the primary.

Meanwhile, in a pair of nearby Southern California districts, Republican Rep. Gary Miller and Democratic Rep. Joe Baca—both of whom will face same-party challengers—have praised each other and trumpeted their experience together. Both men said they have always liked each other but acknowledged that, ahead of November, their mutual praise could help both of them gain credibility with voters from the opposite party.

If the open primary results in more collegial relations, that would be a sign the system is working, said David Crane, an adviser to former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Mr. Crane and a pair of Bay Area investors formed a group last year called Govern for California to fund state legislative candidates who “put the interests of their fellow citizens ahead of personal, party or special interests.”

“When they’re negotiating, they need to be able to compromise on the things that matter—public education, public infrastructure, jobs,” Mr. Crane said.

The change has the Service Employees International Union, a labor group that usually supports Democrats, considering supporting some centrist Republicans who are running for the state legislature against more partisan rivals. The union has invited some GOP candidates to meet its members and fill out questionnaires about their political views—something it used to do only with Democrats.

Mr. Sherman said disclosing GOP support is tricky. “Usually if somebody endorses you, it means you’re pretty similar on the issues,” he said. But for Republican backing, “I have to say to myself, ‘How do I announce them in a way that doesn’t make voters think, Wow, is Sherman voting for Romney?’ ”

But bipartisanship isn’t for everyone. Kevin McCarthy, the House majority whip from Bakersfield, Calif., is behind a fundraising drive to elect GOP candidates across California. “Kevin has no plans to endorse any Democrat,” said his spokesman, Mike Long.

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