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Tough battles mark Congressional contests

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POSTED June 6, 2012 2:15 a.m.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Two long-serving Democrats headed Tuesday for a November showdown in a bitterly contested Los Angeles County House district, a marquee matchup among congressional races across California.

Reps. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman were closely matched in their fight for the 30th District seat in the San Fernando Valley, a race that has seen more than $5 million in spending.

According to early returns, Sherman grabbed about 40 percent of the vote, to 34 percent for Berman. Several Republicans trailed far back, meaning the two Democrats would face off again in November under the state’s retooled primary election rules.

In a statement from his campaign, Sherman said the tally Tuesday was “preparation for a victory party in November.”

Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein easily won her primary election race, advancing to the November ballot.

Tuesday’s primary election sets the stage for November races that are certain to bring new faces — and probably more Democrats — to Congress from a left-leaning state long known for safeguarding incumbents.

Candidates were running under first-time changes in the primary election system intended to open the way for more moderate officeholders who could break — at least in theory — the partisan gridlock that has beset Congress and the California Legislature for years. However, independents running in two prominent races struggled, and no House incumbents appeared in danger of failing to make it to November showdowns.

In Ventura County, Supervisor Linda Parks was trailing two other candidates in her bid to claim the 26th district seat running as an independent. The fastest growing political affiliation in California is “no party preference,” and independents now comprise about 21 percent of the statewide electorate, and 19 percent of voters in her district. If elected, Parks would become the only independent in California’s congressional delegation. But Republican Tony Strickland was leading with 45 percent of the vote, with about 40 percent of the precincts reporting, followed by Democrat Julia Brownley, with 26 percent. Parks had 19 percent.

New district boundaries drawn by an independent commission — a power once held by state lawmakers and party insiders — opened the way for competitive contests. Nine of the 53 districts have no incumbent on the ballot, and the open seats have lured a throng of competitors.

With control of the House of Representatives on the line, national Republicans fear California is among the states where they could lose ground, even if it’s a longshot for Democrats to pick up the 25 seats they need to reclaim the majority.

The level competition is unfamiliar in California, where for years political deal-making produced districts that virtually guaranteed one-sided results on Election Day. Only one House incumbent lost in California in the last decade, a period when voters grew increasingly disillusioned with Washington.

The scenario is further shuffled by a new primary system for congressional and state legislative races in which voters, regardless of registration, can select candidates from any party. The two candidates who receive the most votes advance to the November general election, even if it’s two Republicans or two Democrats.

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