Thanks to redistricting and the state's new "top two" election system, the high-profile battle between incumbent Democratic Reps. Brad Sherman and Howard Berman will carry on until November, when the two lawmakers will square off in a bid to represent a newly drawn 30th congressional district.
Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks, was the top vote-getter in Tuesday's election, with Berman, D-Van Nuys, close behind. The two big-name candidates were destined to square off in November before voting even began, thanks to the "top two" system that sends the top vote-getters to the runoff election regardless of political party.
"You are here at a victory party that is a preparation for a victory party in November," Sherman told supporters Tuesday night.
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Sherman noted that Berman spent more money during the campaign, but said he would be stepping up his effort leading up to Nov. 6.
"We ran a bare-bones campaign in the primary," Sherman said. "That was the exhibition game. Now we're on to the real game and our team is ready to go."
Brandon Hall, a senior adviser to the Berman campaign, said momentum continued to build for Berman as the vote-counting continued.
"According to Brad Sherman's previously released internal polls, we have seized the momentum in this race," Hall said. "Early returns show that Congressman Berman has doubled his support from 17 percent to 34 percent. Sherman, on the other hand, hit his ceiling, stalling at 40 percent."
Hall said he was "confident about our momentum moving into the general election."
The election marked the first major test of the state's "top two" primary system, which was approved by California voters in 2010. The system does not apply to local, presidential or central committee races.
The system was intended to produce more moderate candidates, said Fernando Guerra, a Loyola Marymount politics professor and director of the Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Center for the Study of Los Angeles. But low turnout was the wild-card that could counteract that intention.
"Voters that are motivated by ideology are still going to dominate this election," Guerra said prior to the vote, adding that the "top two" runoff system is also likely to devastate third parties.
Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC, said the new system forces candidates to communicate more with voters.
"It's not just a quantity of voter communication. It's the nature of that communication as well," Schnur said. "Candidates will find that they can no longer rely solely on the most ideologically intense members of their own party. They will be forced to reach out to a broader range of voters."
The results of the every-10-year redistricting process also affected the makeup of candidates on today's ballot. The 2010-11 redistricting, the practice of redrawing political district boundaries to reflect changing demographics, was conducted by a non-partisan citizens commission, rather than lawmakers. In some cases the process forced incumbents of the same party into the same district -- such as Sherman and Berman.
In the South Bay, Democratic incumbents Laura Richardson and Janice Hahn were also forced to duke it out over the same district, and they too will square off in November.