Forget the vice presidential debate. If it was fireworks you wanted, the place to have been last night was Pierce College, where two Democrats fighting each other in a newly created congressional district proved that politics, even the nonpartisan variety, really is a contact sport.
Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks, and Rep. Howard L. Berman, D-Valley Village, were having a heated exchange over an immigration bill in a debate before a raucous crowd at the community college in Woodland Hills.
The two already were standing close to each other when Berman moved to his left, even closer to Sherman, in a gesture vaguely reminiscent of what former Vice President Al Gore did in a debate with George W. Bush in 2000, drawing accusations that he had invaded his opponent's space.
Bush continued to debate, showing some bemusement, without anger. But Sherman accused Berman of getting into his face, threw his right arm around Berman's shoulder, drew him close, then asked in defiant fashion, his face very near Berman's, "You want to get into this?''
By the time a sheriff's deputy walked toward the two men, appearing braced to pry them apart, they already had separated, tape of the incident shows.
"There was not a question in my mind, he was challenging him to a fight," Berman campaign manager Brandon Hall told the Los Angeles Daily News. "Howard's kind of a small guy and Brad was right in his face grabbing him." Hall said Berman was shaken.
Sherman campaign consultant Parke Skelton told the Daily News that Sherman regrets the incident but dismissed as "ridiculous" the contention that Sherman was challenging Berman to a fight.
"Brad regrets his role in the process by which the whole thing got too heated," Skelton said. "Brad regrets that for sure. But again I think it was a mutual losing of cool there, and it's one of those things that happens in a campaign sometimes."