During a live radio debate with his Republican challenger Chris Fields Thursday morning, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) called his opponent a "scumbag" and repeatedly called him a "liar."
The debate was broadcast on KFAI-FM Radio and co-sponsored by Patch, Mature Voices Minnesota, and KFAI.
It marked the third time the rivals for Minnesota's Fifth Congressional District have sat down for a debate in less than a month, and that strain may have started to show in the cramped radio booth. KFAI News Director Dale Connelly interspersed himself between the candidates, fearing a physical altercation as Ellison was visibly angered by Fields' accusations that his campaign had led reporters to a dismissed temporary restraining order filed by Fields' ex-wife in 2006, and by Fields' comments on Ellison's own divorce, made while the congressman's daughter was listening to the debate from an adjoining room.
"I was taken aback by what was going on," he said. Ellison's lips were trembling with evident anger. "I felt I needed to get in between them physically," he recalled "'This isn't helping either one of you,' I said."
During the interchange, the debate's moderator cut all microphones in the studio to give both men a chance to calm down.
Read what happened in the studio
Earlier in the debate, Ellison repeatedly attacked Fields' credibility.
“I’m not going to sit here and let you lie like that. You are not to be trusted,” Ellison said after Fields accused him of lying about being on the U.S. House’s Foreign Affairs Commission in a previous KFAI interview. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself for the liar that you are.”
Listen to the full debate, or skim the lowlights
Ellison quickly issued an apology for the "scumbag" comment.
"In response to my opponent's false statement, I made an uncivil reference to him. I should not have done so. I acted beneath my personal standard as a public official, and I apologize," the statement said. "His untrue reference to the terms of my divorce was over the line, but my comment to him was over the line too. His tactics are no excuse for my departure from civility."
Fields, though, responded with a press release of his own lambasting Ellison for "name-calling and various other political games" during the debate and during the campaign.