Friendly fire ricocheted around the debate stage Thursday as two Democratic congressmen fought for their seats in California's 30th District. And things got a bit more physical than they did in the more-publicized veep debate.
The race between longtime Reps. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman has devolved into one of the nastiest, mud-slinging congressional races in the Wild West.
Thanks to redistricting and a revised primary process in California, which requires the top two candidates—regardless of party—to run against each other in the general election, Berman and Sherman have struggled to distinguish themselves in the race. Berman and Sherman agree the so-called fiscal cliff must be avoided; both want immigration reform; both voted for President Barack Obama's healthcare legislation; voted to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell; and are pro-choice, Israel-loving guys.
So one would think the debate would be pretty dull. Wrong.
During the debate at Pierce College, a question about the DREAM Act escalated the stakes.
Berman mentioned he had authored the bill. Sherman rebuffed it and Berman attacked Sherman as "delusional." Berman stood up and walked toward Berman. Berman slung his arm around his opponent, looked him straight in the eye, and asked, "Do you want to get into this?"
A sheriff deputy had to step in to keep the two elected officials from throwing a punch.
Sherman's campaign says that its candidate did not challenge Berman, but was merely reacting to Berman standing up and walking toward Berman's post.
"The moderator challenged Berman name calling. Sherman asked Berman to 'get away from me' But Berman refused," Parke Skelton, Sherman's campaign manager told LA Weekly. "Clearly, the context is that Sherman is upset that Berman has come over to where Sherman was and is getting in his face and calling him names."
Sherman said: "The Pierce College debate was not conducted at the highest level. I regret my part in allowing emotions distract from the exchange of views."
In his closing statement, Berman explained why both candidates had gotten a bit out of hand.
"We are in a heated and expensive race. It's become a very emotional race. We [each] think that when smears are made, and when untruths are said, a person has to defend himself and that raises the intensity of the debate," Berman said.
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Lauren Fox is a political reporter for U.S. News and World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.