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Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Debate in California Gets Physical


LOS ANGELES - If you thought that the debate on Thursday night between Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Representative Paul D. Ryan, his Republican challenger, was the hottest political face-off around, think again.

That debate seemed downright tame compared with what took place in Los Angeles on Thursday night. A Congressional debate between two incumbent Democrats â€" Brad Sherman and Howard Berman â€" turned into a loud nose-to-nose shouting match, with Mr. Sherman roughly grabbing Mr. Berman around the shoulder, shouting, “Do you want to get into this?”

With shouts of “Oh my god” rising from the crowd, the debate moderator called for calm and a uniformed officer walked to the front t o break the two men apart.

Before the physical contact, Mr. Berman had stepped increasingly closer to Mr. Sherman as the two tried to talk above the rising crowd. But it was Mr. Sherman who lurched to Mr. Berman, seizing him by the shoulder.

Mr. Berman looked shocked, gesturing at Mr. Sherman with his thumb. The two men kept talking face to face until the officer arrived.

The altercation was captured on video and posted online by Mr. Berman's campaign.

The race to represent California's 30th District is perhaps the most hotly contested Congressional race in the country, as The New York Times reported in an article that was headlined, in a way that now seems prescient, “Democrats Duke It Out in the San Fernando Valley“. The two Democrats have never liked each other, and their enmity was only increased when they found themselves thrown into the same district because of redistricting.

Mr. Berman, who finished 10 po ints behind Mr. Sherman in the primary contest in June, quickly tried to capitalize on the incident. After the debate ended, his campaign sent out a string of news releases that accused Mr. Sherman of “trying to start a fight.”

Brandon Hall, a senior adviser to the Berman campaign, said in a statement that Mr. Sherman “loses his mind and acts like a bully.”

“This speaks directly to his temperament that is totally unsuitable for anyone, especially a member of Congress,” Mr. Hall said.

Mr. Sherman's campaign, in response, accused the Berman campaign of “wild mischaracterizations” and “cynical distortions.” In its own string of news releases, the campaign said the video showed Mr. Sherman “briefly putting his arm around Berman's shoulder.”

“The Pierce College debate was not conducted at the highest level,” Mr. Sherman said in a prepared statement. “I regret my part in allowing emotions to distract from the exchange of views. ”

A version of this article appeared in print on 10/13/2012, on page A13 of the NewYork edition with the headline: Up In Arms: Heated End for California Debate.