Four Republican contenders in Ohio's special congressional primary practically tripped over each other emphasizing family at a weekend picnic.

Jean Schmidt (search), a former state lawmaker, had to leave early to attend her daughter's dance recital. Bob McEwen (search), trying to get back to Congress after a 13-year absence, noted his 29th wedding anniversary coming up Sunday.

State Rep. Tom Brinkman told the crowd that he has been married for 21 years and is raising six children. Pat DeWine, a county commissioner in Cincinnati, brought his mom [Fran], dad [U.S.] Sen. Mike DeWine (search) and a couple of sisters.

In this economically distressed and largely Republican part of southern Ohio, family values play well among voters. But the candidates have also been doing their fair share of mudslinging in advance of Tuesday's election to succeed former Rep. Rob Portman (search), who was named U.S. trade representative in March.

McEwen, 55, has come under fire for writing 166 bad checks on the House bank during his earlier tenure, while DeWine, 37, has been criticized for leaving his wife for a lobbyist three years ago.

"I think we ought to talk about the issues. I wish people would do that, but if people want to talk about my personal life I'm happy to address it," DeWine said.

But DeWine can dish out negative ads, too. One radio ad for his campaign enlists the help of Hamilton County prosecutor Joe Deters, who criticizes Brinkman for his opposition to the death penalty.

Brinkman, 47, is one of the Ohio House's staunchest abortion opponents and said he's just consistent in being "pro-life all the way."

Schmidt, 53, has been attacked for her vote in the House two years ago that imposed a 20-percent sales-tax increase over two years. She has said the tax was a temporary solution for misspending in the '90s.

"I think we should be above the fray on mudslinging. We should talk about the issues," she said.

At a recent candidates forum in New Boston, the rhetoric got so nasty it turned off Margaret Schumacher, 65, of Portsmouth.

"If I'd had a water gun, I think I'd have used it. When they start with that, it's just like 2-year-old kids in the playground," she said.

In addition to the four front-runners, there are seven other Republican candidates and six Democrats in Tuesday's primary. Democrat Charles Sanders (search), a former Waynesville mayor, is best known for losing to Portman four times.

Republicans rule the 2nd Congressional District, where Portman had been in office since his own special election in 1993. Only one Democrat, Thomas Luken in the 1970s, has represented the district since 1951.

The seven-county district spreads from Cincinnati's eastern suburbs to Ohio's southern tip, and generally suffers the same economic woes as the rest of Appalachia. Unemployment in Adams County in May was 8.9 percent, compared with 5.9 percent statewide.