Think Biden-Ryan was a hard-fought debate? Then you missed the Berman-Sherman brawl up in the Valley today.

Congressman Brad Sherman put his arm around rival Congressman Howard Berman and challenged him to a fight, saying “Do you want to get into this?”

A sheriff's deputy had to separate the two. The video is after the jump.

Both Democrats, Berman and Sherman have been forced to go to head thanks to redistricting and California's new top-two primary system. They squared off at a forum at Pierce College this afternoon. 

According to the Berman campaign, the confrontation arose when the two were discussing the Dream Act. Sherman disputed that Berman had authored the legislation, at which point Berman called Sherman “delusional.”

Sherman rose to his feet — as the crowd cheered — and loudly confronted Berman. At that point, Berman took a step toward Sherman. Sherman warned him not to “get in my face,” and then moved even closer, grabbing Berman around the shoulder and saying, “You want to get into this?”

As the crowd of college students cheered and hooted, a deputy stepped up to the stage to make sure the confrontation didn't go any further.

The Berman camp sent out a press release asking “Has Brad Sherman lost his mind?” No word on that yet from Sherman's side.

Update: Parke Skelton, Sherman's campaign manager, has a different interpretation of events. His statement in full:

Sherman did not challenge Berman. Cong. Sherman was reacting to Berman leaving his table, coming over to where Sherman's was seated and calling him a “liar” and “delusional.” The moderator challenged Berman's name calling. Sherman asked Berman to “get away from me.” But Berman refused. At that point Sherman put his arm briefly around Berman and asked “Howard, you want to get into this? You want to put your face into my face…” 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 is asking Berman why he is behaving the way he is.

At the close of the debate, Berman said: “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 debate.”

Clearly, Berman thought that he shared responsibility for the heated tone of the debate. Only after Brandon Hall decided to try to turn this into something that it was not, did they change their tune. Brandon's release makes a number of misstatements and exaggerations. Sherman did not put Berman in a headlock. A Sheriff did not escort Sherman from the premises. Both parties calmed down an the debate continued.

Not a good day for a consultant when you have to deny that your candidate put someone in a headlock.

Sherman was contrite in his own statement: “The Pierce College debate was not conducted at the highest level. I regret my part in allowing emotions to distract from the exchange of views.”

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