Rep. Dana Rohrabacher's ties to Russia are front and center in the California Republican's increasingly heated re-election contest.
The GOP lawmaker is locked in a tight race with Democratic challenger Harley Rouda, who teed off on Rohrabacher's links to the Kremlin during their first debate Monday.
Tense moments peppered the debate as the incumbent defended his pro-Russia record and accused his opponent of trying to impeach President Donald Trump. Immigration, health care as well as the economy and environment were among other issues that came up during the taped forum, which is scheduled to air locally Sunday.
Some of the most contentious moments, though, were during the discussion about Russia and the ongoing probe into Moscow's interference in the 2016 presidential election.
"Yes, we should cooperate with Russia now that it's no longer our major threat, meaning the primary threat," said Rohrabacher, a 15-term congressman representing California's 48th Congressional District. "Right now we have to deal with radical Islam and China, and Russia. We should cooperate where we can with Russia, rather than being unrelentingly hostile."
Rouda, a lawyer and real estate developer, has run Russia-focused ads touting the vulnerable congressman's ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Democrat criticized Rohrabacher on Monday for siding against U.S. intelligence agencies and giving Russia a pass on interference in the 2016 presidential election. He also accused him of "meeting with Russian operatives."
"Rep. Rohrabacher has said that 17 U.S. intelligence agencies that were staffed by working men and women from diverse background, including our U.S. military ... were all wrong," Rouda said during the Monday debate, "that the Russians had nothing to do with meddling with our elections."
A Los Angeles Times/UC Berkeley poll released last month showed Rohrabacher and Rouda tied at 48 percent. The poll found 10 percent of registered Republicans and 45 percent of undecided voters were less likely to vote for Rohrabacher because of his Russian ties.