Was Rep. Brad Sherman’s brief grabbing of Rep. Howard Berman the turning point in the two California Democrats’ ugly election battle?
Berman seems to be betting on it.
Berman’s campaign is out with a new ad, "Unhinged," highlighting footage of Sherman roughly grabbing his fellow congressman around the shoulder at a heated moment in a debate. "You want to get into this," Sherman is heard to say to his shorter and older colleague.
The ad also highlights Washingtonian magazine’s ranking — based on a survey of congressional staffers — of Sherman as the second-meanest member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
The ad does not show what preceded the grab: Sherman had denied that Berman was the author of the DREAM Act, accusing him of wrongly taking credit from Rep. Luis Gutierrez. (Gutierrez is campaigning for Berman, who the Illinois Democrat confirmed is indeed the bill’s author.) And Berman did draw his face in close to Sherman’s face as the confrontation grew heated, though he refrained from physical contact and had turned away by the time Sherman grabbed him.)
Before this incident, it was looking like Berman would have an uphill battle to remain in Congress.
Sherman had handily beaten Berman in their open primary and had held a significant lead in polling on their runoff race. Berman’s overwhelming advantage in support among leading elected officials and members of Congress was not helping him close the gap with Sherman, who has long been an energetic practitioner of local retail politics.
Sherman has said that he regrets touching Berman but suggested that the incident would not resonate with voters: "They are not focused on a video that makes good entertainment television for somebody who wants to do a show about congressmen behaving badly," he said. He is accusing Berman’s campaign of misrepresenting what happened.
But the incident, which drew significant media attention, seems to have hurt Sherman. A new poll found Sherman’s lead over Berman down to only six percentage points, 32 percent to 26 percent. A third of likely voters had seen footage of the incident, and those voters were going for Berman 29 percent to 17 percent.
The incident also gained Berman the endorsement of California Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, who had previously been staying neutral. It’s the second time that Sherman’s actions have netted Berman a big endorsement. Back in February, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) got off the fence after Sherman’s campaign sent out a mailer that she considered to be an unfair attack against Berman.
UPDATE: The Sherman campaign’s latest internal polling still has him up by the whopping margin of 25 percentage points. Berman’s campaign, however, questioned the validity of the numbers.