The aura of camaraderie is beginning to fade among the six Republican candidates vying to unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. Harry Mitchell.
The Republicans had previously put a premium on civility in the race, remembering six-term Republican incumbent J.D. Hayworth's bombastic performance in his losing campaign against Mitchell in 2006.
However, the Republicans have begun to turn against one another.
First, David Schweikert sent three mailers condemning opponent Susan Bitter Smith as a "liberal," a term that nearly qualifies as hate speech among Republicans.
Then, fellow challenger Mark Anderson issued a news release accusing Schweikert of going negative.
All that among a group of Republicans who entered the race promising to keep their campaigns positive and issues-oriented, so that they wouldn't weaken the eventual nominee's chances against Mitchell.
Schweikert's campaign manager, Bill Connor, dismissed the premise that Schweikert has gone negative.
"This is Mark Anderson's attempt to be relevant since he's polling in single digits," Connor said.
The matter started with a trio of full-color postcards Schweikert sent on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of last week.
One says Bitter Smith raised taxes while she served as a Scottsdale city councilwoman, she opposed federal legislation intended to reauthorize surveillance of terrorists, and that she supports abortion on demand.
The Schweikert mailer concludes: "Don't let Liberal Susan Bitter-Smith Exploit President Reagan's Legacy to Fool You... She's NO Reagan Republican!"
The second postcard focuses on Bitter Smith's "liberal record" on taxes, national security and her work as a lobbyist for unspecified "special interests." The third hits all four themes.
The postcards offer no citations for the claims.
Anderson, a state representative from Mesa, issued a news release Thursday calling on Schweikert, the former Maricopa County treasurer who lives in Fountain Hills, to call off the attacks.
"It wasn't really defending her," Anderson told the Tribune. "It was more just pointing out that the Schweikert campaign sort of forgot that we all committed to doing this - a positive thing, elevating our chances of winning in November."
Anderson entered the campaign by asking his fellow Republican competitors to sign a pledge to run clean campaigns. The other Republicans declined to sign it, but at several public forums since then, they uniformly agreed to keep the race positive.
Meanwhile, Bitter Smith said in a statement that she will keep her campaign issues-oriented.
"I can't speculate on another candidate's need to attack an opponent's character or misstating their record," she said. Furthermore, her endorsement by taxpayer advocate Jean McGrath speaks to her conservative stand on tax cuts, she said.
Bitter Smith was unavailable to elaborate personally Tuesday because she was taping campaign forums, according to an aide.
She discusses her tax policy on her campaign Web site, stating, "I will not raise taxes, and I will fight to make the temporary tax cuts from 2001 and 2003 permanent."
Her Web site does not address the other issues raised by Schweikert's campaign.
Connor, Schweikert's campaign manager, said the postcards constitute legitimate campaign literature.
"It's been my take on it that when you're talking about the issues, it's by definition not negative," he said.
"Bitter Smith is pro-choice. She has a weak record on national security and she has been a tax raiser. None of that bears on her personal character. If we'd gone out and said something about her personally, then yeah, I'd agree that was negative campaigning," he said.
All of the Republicans have been cautious to avoid the type of negative campaign displayed by Hayworth, who lost the congressional seat to Mitchell, a former Tempe mayor, two years ago.
Arizona's Republican-leaning 5th Congressional District takes in Scottsdale, Tempe, Fountain Hills, Ahwatukee Foothills and west Mesa.