California House race with veteran Democrats turns physical during debate

A bitter Los Angeles-area congressional race between two veteran House Democrats took a strange turn Thursday night when the two candidates nearly got into a physical altercation during a public debate.

Democratic Reps. Brad Sherman and Howard Berman are vying to win control of the same district due to California's new primary system, which sends the top two finishers to the runoff regardless of party affiliation.

The Los Angeles Times reports 57-year-old Sherman seized the shoulder of 71-year-old Berman during the debate at a local college, yanked him toward his chest and shouted, "You want to get into this?"

Berman, who is smaller in stature than Sherman, visibly appears flustered in a video obtained by the Los Angeles Times.  An officer in uniform then approaches the stage and appears to ask the congressmen to move away from each other.

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Moments earlier, during a dispute on an immigration-related bill, Berman, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, stepped close to Sherman on the stage, who told his colleague loudly, "Get out of my face."

The two men later stood nose-to-nose exchanging words before a sheriff's deputy emerged behind them and briefly placed his hand on Sherman's shoulder. Sherman sat down and took a drink from what appeared to be a water bottle before the two men continued the debate.

Sherman later said in a statement obtained by the Associated Press that the debate "was not conducted at the highest level."

"I regret my part in allowing emotions to distract from the exchange of views," the statement read.

The veteran lawmakers were pulled into the same district after a voter-approved independent panel redrew California's political boundaries. They were the top vote-getters in the June primary.

Their race for the 30th district seat is one of eight same-party congressional runoffs on California's November ballot. Another, in the San Francisco Bay area, involves Democratic Rep. Pete Stark, the longest-serving member of the state's congressional delegation.

The campaign has seen a series of competing accusations, ranging from suggestions of ethical impropriety to fleecing taxpayers. Earlier Thursday, two former secretaries of state, George Shultz and Madeleine Albright, released a letter defending Berman for taking overseas trips following criticism from Sherman's campaign.

Click to watch a short video of the debate on YouTube. 

Click for more from the Los Angeles Times.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.