The GOP congressional candidates hoping to unseat Rep. Harry Mitchell this fall and go to Washington have three things in common: they see replacing Mitchell, a Democrat, as a critical step in taking back Congress and forming a GOP majority in the House of Representatives; they are convinced that Washington and the nation are on the wrong course; and they aren’t convinced that the Republican party has been doing a great job in the last few years.

At one of the liveliest candidate forums so far this election season the Ahwatukee Republican Women’s Club event Tuesday night gave all six a chance to show how they stand out from their competitors.

Susan Bitter-Smith underlined her experience on the Scottsdale City Council, and her knowledge of water issues as president of the Central Arizona Project.

Lee Gentry pushed his accounting and legal background to help clean up Washington.

Dr. Chris Salvino stressed his medical background.

Mark Spinks, the only Ahwatukee Foothills resident, emphasized his business and real estate background.

David Schweikert declared his conservative principles.

Jim Ward touted his experience as an outsider being brought in to straighten out major companies.

Two years ago Schweikert, a former state legislator and county treasurer, won the primary election but lost to Mitchell in the general election. He said that one of the problems facing Republicans is that too many turned away from their conservative roots.

“I call myself a conservative before I call myself a Republican,” Schweikert told the crowd of 80 people gathered at the Grace Inn for the forum.

Bitter-Smith came in second, behind Schweikert, two years ago, but is convinced that Mitchell has simply lost touch with his constituents and she is ready to take him on.

“I’m all about winning,” Bitter-Smith said.

The other four are all political newcomers, running for office for the first time.

Ward is a former advertising executive, who has Fortune 500 experience and believes that as a newcomer and someone who understands business he can clean up Washington. Of all the candidates, he has raised the most money as of the end of March.

Salvino is running against health care reform, which he calls “Obama Care.” He says it’s the first step to socialized medicine. Salvino is also running against President Obama, as his signs say. He advocates getting back to basics, like following the Constitution.

Spinks and Gentry are trailing in the fundraising and working to attain name recognition.

Spinks is a former restaurant chain executive, now involved in real estate, who said he is an “everyday Joe.” But he is running for the silent majority that he says has no voice in Washington and hopes to bring his real-world experience to the job.

Gentry, the only pro-choice candidate of the six, said he would hold town halls around the district for every bill before Congress to gauge the feelings of constituents before he votes.

“We need fresh leadership, someone who is accountable and will listen,” Gentry told the crowd.

Mitchell narrowly defeated J.D. Hayworth four years ago, then held on to the congressional seat, which includes all of Ahwatukee Foothills, Tempe and Scottsdale, in 2008.

The primary election is set for Aug. 24.

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