Dems Day 2: Congressional "Erminators"

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Berman v. Sherman (Photos: John Myers/KQED)

SAN DIEGO -- Think Hatfields and McCoys. Or Corleones and Tattaglias. Now, think worse... and you start to get a feel for the animosity on display Saturday night between Rep. Howard Berman and Rep. Brad Sherman.

The two veteran Democratic pols, locked in a knife fight after redistricting landed them both in California's new 30th congressional district, came out swinging at a party endorsement caucus during the California Democratic Convention.

Sherman accused Berman of being bought by big corporations. Berman called Sherman "slightly pathetic." And in the end, the caucus took a pass at an endorsement.

The official caucus vote tally -- at least, before challenges to individual ballots cast, stood at 69 votes for Sherman (plus an additional four provisional ballots) and 52 for Berman. Party rules stipulated that either man must have received 60% of the votes cast by CA-30 delegates to have his endorsement go to the full convention's consent calendar on Sunday. And Sherman came up a little short, while noting during the count some ballots his campaign may formally contest.

And this was one not to miss, as evidenced by the standing room only crowd. A young man was actually chased through the conference room before the proceedings, with accusations he may have snatched a delegate ballot. The moderator later had to admonish loyalists against booing a fellow Democrat.

And then, there were those speeches.

"I don't have three super-PACS," said Sherman. "My opponent's first super-PAC had a six-figure contribution from PG&E." And from there, the eight-term Democrat from Sherman Oaks launched into accusations that Rep. Berman's supporters had tinkered with the delegate voting process while falsely accusing his side of doing the same thing. Which led to one of the more memorable political denials in memory.

"We have outrageous charges of forgery," said Sherman. "We have today a handwriting expert that will disprove those ridiculous charges."

Here's the full of audio of Rep. Sherman:

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When it was Berman's turn, the 14-term House member went right for Sherman's gut.

"Do you find it slightly pathetic," said Berman, "that a guy who [currently] represents twice as much of the district, started with $2 million more in cash on hand finds it necessary this early in the campaign to spend all his time attacking and distorting his opponent's record?"

Here's the full audio of Rep. Berman:

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In post-caucus interviews, both men expressed happiness with the outcome -- saying their goal was to keep the state party from wading in (with an official endorsement) to a race that needs to be decided by the district's voters and not by Democratic insiders.

Both men have been raising money at a pretty good clip of late, and all watchers wonder whether the 30th will be one of those "Dem vs. Dem" races come November -- that is, an intraparty squabble that goes all year long in the new top-two primary era. Others, though, think that GOP registration may be small but significant enough to create a solid turnout on June 2 and thus force one of the '-ermans' into early retirement.

We will see. But for now, as the large crowd filed out of the caucus room, it was clear that the two men not only don't like each other... but don't trust the political dynamics at hand in their fight to the death.

Note: This wraps up blog convention coverage. I'll be turning now to my radio story on the party endorsement scramble throughout the weekend for Monday's edition of The California Report.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.

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