Two candidates are smearing each other right to the end of a wild and mean-spirited Republican primary in Arizona's 5th Congressional District.
David Schweikert and Susan Bitter Smith, who have been lobbing charges and counter charges of malfeasance, dishonesty and slander for weeks, issued a new round of news releases and e-mail messages to hit each other again in the final days of the race, which ends Tuesday.
Schweikert and Bitter Smith are among six Republicans trying to secure the GOP nomination to challenge single-term incumbent Democrat Rep. Harry Mitchell in November.
The other Republicans - Mark Anderson, Lee Gentry, Laura Knaperek and Jim Ogsbury - largely have avoided the back-and-forth between Bitter Smith and Schweikert, who probably had the best name recognition among the challengers when the race began.
All six entered the race pledging to play nice, largely to avoid a rerun of former six-term Republican incumbent J.D. Hayworth's frothing implosion that helped turn over the seat to Mitchell in 2006.
"The rest of us are just out there campaigning," said Anderson, a state representative from Mesa. "Going door-to-door, making phone calls, speaking at events, getting the word out. We're trying to get people aware that there's an election."
The smear jobs by Schweikert and Bitter Smith are bound to hurt the eventual Republican nominee's chances against Mitchell, because the constant negativity is turning off Republican voters, he said.
"The normal conventional wisdom is if you go negative and you attack an opponent, the opponent goes down, but you also go down. The idea is that you go down less than the opponent," Anderson said.
The fracas began when Schweikert sent three mail pieces challenging Bitter Smith's credentials as a "Reagan Republican" based on her statements on taxes, national security and abortion rights.
Bitter Smith dismissed most of Schweikert's "evidence" against her as dirty politics.
In the latest round, Bitter Smith went public with a number of allegations against Schweikert that political insiders had been trading quietly for weeks.
A mail piece asks, "Why is David Schweikert attacking his Republican opponents? Politician David Schweikert is trying to hide his own record ... FINANCIAL MISMANAGEMENT AND BANKRUPTCY."
The piece goes on to state that a county audit revealed that when Schweikert served as Maricopa County treasurer, he used improper accounting practices in his dealings with two school districts. Bitter Smith also says he raised fuel taxes.
Schweikert responded with a news conference, news releases, e-mail messages and pages on his Web site that dismiss Bitter Smith's allegations, saying they're wrong or overstated.
"Accusing the Treasurer of bankrupting a school district is no different than someone accusing the bank for allowing them to write bad checks," he states in one of his responses.
Schweikert also responds by accusing Bitter Smith of rasing taxes while she served on the Scottsdale City Council and Balsz Elementary School District and accepting "special interest" money from abortion advocates.
Bitter Smith told the Tribune that Schweikert played more than a minor role in the school district bankruptcy matters.
"They're all documented," she said. "Unfortunately, they are true and there are two little school districts out there that are victims because they're now in receivership bankruptcy."
Schweikert's latest attacks on Bitter Smith indicate that he knows he's behind in the race and that he's desperate in the last days of the campaign.
Schweikert told the Tribune his final message for his rival is simple.
"Look, I'm not going to even ask for an apology. Just stop doing it so that we don't all go off the cliff together, because this has gotten wacky," he said.
Ogsbury, one of the other Republican contenders, said he doesn't know what effect the blow-up between Bitter Smith and Schweikert is having on the overall six-way contest.
"I just don't know. I really don't. I'm a policy wonk. I'm not a political analyst," said Ogsbury, a former staff director of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development.
"It's not affecting my race. We made a determination at the very outset of this thing that we were going to follow our counsel and run our own campaign and not be thrown off by what other folks do," he said.
The 5th District takes in Scottsdale, Tempe, Fountain Hills, Ahwatukee Foothills and west Mesa.