For the longest time in his re-election campaign, U.S. Rep. Brian Bilbray (R) 50th District, has laughed off attacks from his Democratic challenger, attorney Nick Leibham.
He saw them as "immature stunts" -- beneath serious response while he was in Washington, D.C. dealing with the nation's financial crisis.
But Bilbray no longer is ignoring his rival.
He's back in San Diego, unloading on Leibham in full, ferocious campaign mode.
A sample of his counterattack came during on a live-to-tape debate session Wednesday for the next edition of NBC 7/39's "Politically Speaking."
Leibham, responding to an opening question about Bilbray's vote against the Economic Stablilization Act passed Oct. 3 by the House of Representatives Oct. 9, quickly went on the offensive.
"Brian Bilbray turned his back on San Diego and San Diego's families and San Diego's businesses," Leibham said. "I would have made that vote."
Bilbray responded even before being asked, stabbing a forefinger in Leibham's direction: "Nick, if you're going to change Washington, you've got to tell them 'no' and tell them 'no' up front. You've got to listen to the people of San Diego. Not listen to your leaders and bosses who are telling you what to do in Washington, and telling you how to run your campaign.
"I listened to the people of San Diego right up to five minutes before the vote. That's something you've never done, never tried. You' ve never even been involved. How can you sit there and say you could balance the budget?"
Libertarian Wayne Dunlap, seated between the two, got a couple of opportunities to weigh in on economic and foreign policy issues, but Bilbray and Leibham dominated the interplay, often "talking over" each other.
"Please don't interrupt me, Congressman," Leibham shot back at one point.
Bilbray vented his ire over a Leibham campaign commercial in which Gen. Joe Hoar, USMC (Ret.), accuses Bilbray of having voted against the latest GI Bill -- a charge the incumbent and numerous veterans group heatedly deny.
"It doesn't hurt me when he runs these ads," Bilbray said. "It hurts him. Because the veterans groups of San Diego County know me, they know people like (Repubican U.S. Reps.) Duncan Hunter and Darrell Issa -- we stood together with veterans."
Leibham's 'spin': "He (Bilbray) had the choice to either stand with those in combat boots or those with Gucci loafters. And you --" looking sidelong at Bilbray -- "chose the loafers."
"You know, Nick," Bilbray countered, "the only thing worse than trying to blame veterans for a huge tax increase is trying to get elected by misleading them."
Bilbray referred several times to Leibham as "Nicholas", his tone suggesting condescension to a first-time political candidate.
In return, Leibham used the phrase "high-priced lobbyist on K Street" as a reminder of Bilbray's six years as a legislative advocate in Washington between his first three terms in Congress and his current term.
"I kind of expected this," Dunlap, the Libertarain nominee, said of the Bilbray-Leibham dustup on his way out of the studio after the videotaping session. "This is the first time we've all been together, and they've really wanting to go after each other."
You can watch the full program Sunday, October 26 at 10:30 a.m.