Supporters of U.S. Sen. Harry Reid and his GOP challenger Sharron Angle brawled at the end of a Senate race forum at a local Christian school.
A half-dozen bystanders tried to separate the combatants, one male Angle backer and two female Reid supporters, before security guards intervened.
"I didn't expect anything like this, not in a million years," said the Rev. Robin Joyce, one of the organizers of the event at Faith Lutheran Junior/Senior High School in Summerlin. "Our whole aim was to have an educational forum to hear from the candidates about their economic positions."
Instead, tempers flared in the high-stakes race between the Democratic incumbent and the Tea Party upstart three weeks before early voting starts Oct. 16.
"He punched me twice, so I punched him back twice," Kay Mehta said as she nursed a red, tearing eye and waited for police to arrive. "I was just defending myself."
No arrests were made. Police interviewed those involved for a report on the incident. The names of all of the participants were not released.
At the start of the 7 p.m. forum, the audience was asked not to applaud or to shout out as Reid answered questions in a prerecorded videotape because he is in Washington, D.C. Angle answered a moderator's questions live from the stage.
But partisan members of the audience became boisterous as the hourlong forum progressed. As Angle was giving her closing statement, a stream of Reid supporters among the 800-member audience began to leave the auditorium, which has close rows of theater-style seating.
A Reid backer, Kelly Tanaka, said one male Angle supporter refused to let her pass in front of him.
She alleged he tried to push her over the seats in front of him when she tried to pass. That is when the Reid and Angle partisans began to tussle and then exchange blows.
Tanaka accused the Angle supporter of hitting her. Mehta said she then got involved. Some bystanders said one of the women shoved the man back into his seat when he tried to get up.
The fight escalated after Angle finished speaking and blew a kiss to supporters in the audience. She left quickly to catch a flight to Reno as the scuffle disrupted the auditorium.
"I was just trying to get him off her," said Mehta, a Reid supporter. "We were just trying to get by."
The auditorium was packed mostly with conservative Republican Angle supporters who were drawn to the event sponsored by the Faith Lutheran Business Advisory Council, the Christian Businessmen's Network, Businesswomen for Christ and Media Fellowship International.
Reid backers appeared to account for up to one-fifth of the audience judging by reactions from the crowd, including scattered boos and jeers when Angle was speaking.
Some of Reid's videotaped answers attracted rude noises and open scoffing from the Angle crowd.
The loudest protests came when Reid made his closing statement and made the case, using a baseball analogy, about why voters should give him a fifth term.
"Why would you pull somebody out of the game that's done so much for the state of Nevada?" Reid asked.
His remark elicited scattered boos and scoffing. One man said derisively, "Ha, ha, ha."
In Angle's closing remarks, she said voters should choose her because she will do what she says, including voting against tax hikes as she did as a Reno assemblywoman. She said she voted against taxes and fees more than 100 times, while Reid has voted for them more than 300 times.
"They can trust me," Angle said of voters. "I kept my promises, and I will keep my promises as your U.S. senator."
A man interrupted, calling out, "You lie!" Angle ignored him.
Reid and Angle largely kept to their standard campaign talking points during the forum.
The incumbent touted his record of pushing for more renewable energy projects to create jobs in Nevada, and he defended the Democrats' stimulus spending.
Angle said the best way to create new jobs is to cut taxes and regulations on businesses to free them to hire people without fear of increasing the costs of doing business.
Reid and Angle, who are running neck and neck in most polls, will engage in one televised debate on Oct. 14, two days before early voting starts in Nevada.
The debate will be moderated by Mitch Fox, the Vegas PBS, Channel 10, talk show host who moderated Thursday night's forum.
Contact Laura Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2919.