As Californians head to the polls Tuesday, two Democratic House members will be squaring off in a contest that is likely to test the limits of Hollywood's political might.
Reps. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman have been tossed into the same district and are facing off in an open primary contest. Under California's new system, all candidates will run on one ballot and the top two finishers regardless of party affiliation will face off in November.
A new poll released earlier this week by the University of Southern California showed that Sherman and Berman are likely to emerge as the top two finishers in Tuesday's contest and will meet again in November.
The poll also found Sherman leading Berman 32 percent to 24 percent with 23 percent of voters undecided. Five other candidates also are running including Republican Mark Reed, who is running third with 10 percent far behind Sherman and Berman.
Sherman's edge in the USC poll may be due in part to the fact that more of his old district ended up in the newly redrawn San Fernando Valley district, according to Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles.
Despite this, Berman and Sherman "are both going to live to fight another day" following Tuesday's vote, Sonenshein said.
While Sherman has some show business support, much of the industry has coalesced behind Berman, who has long been a leader in promoting the industry's interests in Washington. Television, movies, and music interests are Berman's biggest contributors, pouring more than $360,000 into his campaign so far. Sherman's top contributors come from real estate, accounting and law firms, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Berman, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee and the top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, was a strong champion of the controversial anti-piracy bill known as the Stop Online Piracy Act or SOPA. The bill was derailed in January after opponents organized a historic Internet "blackout" to protest a bill they said would harm Internet innovation and free speech. Sherman, who is chairman of the Congressional Entertainment Industries Caucus, also supported the bill but has since backed off his support, saying the legislation needs to be revamped.
Sonenshein said that the issue is not a factor for voters but that Berman's steadfast support for SOPA helped solidify the movie and music industry behind his candidacy and boosted his fundraising.
"I don't think [the entertainment industry support] means anything to the voters but helps him raise money," he said.
Berman has passed Sherman in fundraising for this election cycle, collecting $3.1 million compared with $2.1 million for Sherman. Sherman, however, had $3 million in the bank as of mid-May compared with $800,000 for Berman, according to the Federal Election Commission.
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