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Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Video: Berman & Sherman get physical during congressional debate in San Fernando Valley

Congressman Brad Sherman swings his arm around Congressman Howard Berman during a debate Thursday night in the San Fernando Valley.
Congressman Brad Sherman swings his arm around Congressman Howard Berman during a debate Thursday night in the San Fernando Valley. YouTube/Howard Berman

The already bitter congressional race between two longtime Democrats nearly came to fisticuffs Thursday.  The video below shows two grown men in suits appearing ready for a schoolyard brawl.

Video from the debate at Pierce College begins with Congressman Howard Berman, 71, accusing Congressman Brad Sherman, 57, of being “delusional” about Berman’s record. Some in the crowd cheer loudly as Sherman stands to respond.

Then things get interesting:

To summarize, Sherman shouts into a microphone, points at Berman and the elder congressman takes a quick step toward his junior. The bespectacled lawmakers appear to be within a foot of each other, perhaps close enough to fog the other’s glasses.

“Don’t get in my face!” Sherman barks.

Sherman, who stands taller than Berman, then swings his arm around him. The force makes Berman wobble a bit.

“You wanna get into this!” Sherman asks loudly.

The two turn towards each other, nose to nose for a moment, as the audience goes wild. A Sheriff’s deputy comes up behind them to calm the skirmish between the two men battling to hold onto their jobs.

Later, emails flew. Berman’s camp fired first.

“U.S. Congressman Brad Sherman attempted to start a fight with Howard Berman on stage this afternoon during a debate at Pierce College, forcibly grabbing Berman,” a statement said.

“Brad Sherman loses his mind and acts like a bully,” said Brandon Hall, senior advisor to Berman.

Emails from the Sherman campaign came next.

“Brandon Hall has taken the Pierce College debate incident and thoroughly distorted what happened,” a statement said.  “Sherman, as the tape shows, very definitely did not put Berman in a headlock. Nothing like it,” said the press release, referring to accusations by the Berman side.

There may have been no headlock, but heads likely are spinning after the confrontation.

This is a race that pits two incumbent Democrats against each other after redistricting. They’re also facing off twice because of the California’s new “Top Two” primary that has the two highest vote-getters regardless of political party competing in November.

Sherman finished first in the primary, in part because the new district has more overlap with his old one. A recent poll gave him a double-digit lead, even though most major Democrats including Governor Brown and U.S. Senators Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer back Berman.

The contest is particularly bitter for other reasons. Both are well-known Jewish leaders whose contest has split L.A.’s Jewish community. In addition, Berman – who’s been in Congress three decades – felt the junior representative should have stepped aside and run in a different district. Sherman, for his part, sees Berman as feeling too entitled.

They different on some issues – Sherman opposed the Iraq War earlier than Berman, and led an effort to kill the economic bailout. He is also more protectionist on trade issues  But the two have similar voting records.

The race is one of the most expensive Congressional contests in the nation, and has attracted news coverage across the country. Now there’s good video. Wonder what that will do for coverage.

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