"It's not helpful," said Rep. Steve Israel, the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, speaking about the Berman-Sherman showdown in an interview earlier this year. "I'd rather they be spending that money to elect, to help us win 25 seats than to defend one."
It's not just about the money, either. When it comes to party volunteers, it's a zero-sum game: Every Democratic activist campaigning against a fellow Democrat this fall is one fewer wooing voters to dislodge a Republican.
"The Democratic Party, labor, environmentalists, LBGT groups, consumer attorneys — all of these groups on the left with ... money, and volunteers, and bodies are going to be wasting precious resources in these very, very liberal districts to decide between two Democrats," said Paul Mitchell, a Democratic strategist in the state.
Both parties agree that California, with its 53 congressional districts , is the epicenter of the battle for the House in 2012. An independent commission redrew the state's political boundaries this year and threw into upheaval what had been the most stable delegation in Congress. (Democrats currently hold a 34-19 advantage.) There are now up to a dozen battleground districts, and Democrats and Republicans alike are arming themselves with California-specific super PAC funds.
In theory, the new election rules should apply equally to Democrats and Republicans. But in practice, it is possible that only one race, or none, will feature two Republicans this fall, compared with up to six such races for the Democrats. The reason, Mitchell explained, is that blue California "has many, many ultra-liberal districts and very few ultra-conservative districts." In other words, even most red parts of the state have enough Democratic voters to advance a Democrat to the general election.
In Compton, no Republican will even be on the ballot. Instead, Democratic Reps. Janice Hahn and Laura Richardson will face off in June and again in November. It's a similar story in the liberal Bay Area district held by 20-term Rep. Pete Stark, who faces a serious challenge from a Democratic city council member who is expected to advance to the fall over an independent candidate. No Republican is on the ballot there either.
In the so-called Inland Empire, Democratic Rep. Joe Baca will probably have to square off twice against state Sen. Gloria Negrete McLeod, another Democrat. As a six-term incumbent, Baca begins the race with the advantage, but Negrete McLeod has beaten a Baca before, knocking off the lawmaker's son, Joe Baca Jr., in a rout to win her current seat.
The long battles between incumbents will cost the DCCC a hefty chunk of member dues. Berman and Sherman had combined to give the party committee nearly $1 million during the 2008 and 2010 cycles. This year, they're not expected to contribute anything.