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Another Republican Steps Up To Challenge Rep. Scott Peters

Photo caption:

Photo by Claire Trageser

Denise Gitsham announces her run for San Diego's 52nd Congressional District, Nov. 5, 2015.

The number of candidates vying for San Diego's 52nd Congressional District race grew by one Thursday with Republican Denise Gitsham's announcement.

52nd Congressional District

Geography: Runs north from Coronado to La Jolla, and then east to include Carmel Valley, Scripps Ranch, Poway and Rancho Bernardo.

Party breakdown: 33.3% Republican, 32.1% Democrat, 31.3% independent

Source: California Secretary of State

Republican Denise Gitsham announced Thursday that she will be the third candidate running for San Diego's 52nd Congressional District.

She's hoping to unseat Democratic Rep. Scott Peters, who narrowly won re-election to his second term in 2014. He defeated Republican Carl DeMaio, a former San Diego city councilman, as is Peters.

"I'm running because I believe public servants should be just that, servants, not self serving," Gitsham said at her campaign kickoff Thursday. She said she hopes to grow San Diego's innovation economy, restore decency in politics and foster a more collaborative spirit in Congress if elected.

Photo credit: Denise Gitsham campaign

Republican Denise Gitsham, a candidate for the 52nd Congressional District, appears in this undated campaign photo.

"Whether you're the mayor of a city, president of the United States, the head of the PTA, or the CEO of a startup, characteristics that make someone a good leader are consistent with all of our shared senses of respect, decency and common sense," she said.

Peters' spokeswoman, MaryAnne Pintar, said in an email, “Rep. Peters remains focused on the job: fighting for the next generation of biotech jobs, to get veterans the care they’ve earned, to make college more affordable, and to fix a broken Congress."

Gitsham's parents are Chinese and Canadian immigrants, according to her campaign. They both drove from Sacramento to San Diego for Thursday's event.

Gitsham co-owns the firm SVN Public Relations. She worked as a lawyer in Washington, D.C., and for Republican political consultant Karl Rove during the 2000 presidential campaign and then in the White House. Rove's political action committee American Crossroads fundraises for Republican campaigns.

She said she doesn't know whether the group will support her campaign. Gitsham's business partner at SVN, Sheena Tahilramani, worked as Rove's chief of staff, but Gitsham said Tahilramani no longer works with Rove.

Congressman Scott Peters in an undated photo. Peters represents the 52nd Congressional District.

Gitsham also co-founded the public relations firm 7 Second Strategies and worked for the San Diego biotech Sapphire Energy, according to her LinkedIn profile.

In 2008, Gitsham was a contestant on the ABC reality TV show "The Bachelor," where she competed for British businessman Matt Grant. She told him she worked for Rove and was eliminated on the first episode.

Gitsham's campaign website does not say she is a Republican, but she said at her campaign kickoff that the omission wasn't intentional.

"That's funny, I wrote the copy," she said. "It's very obvious that I am. I'm certainly not hiding from it."

In April, Republican Jacquie Atkinson announced she was running to unseat Peters.

While Republicans said they'd again target Peters' seat for 2016, Atkinson has lagged behind Peters in fundraising.

Last year, more than $10 million was spent on the contest between Peters and DeMaio. So far, Peters has raised $1.3 million for his re-election compared to Atkinson's $89,000. Roll Call reported last month that Atkinson had raised only $49,000 in the third quarter.

Tony Krvaric, chairman of the San Diego County Republican Party, was at Gitsham's announcement Thursday, as was San Diego City Councilman Mark Kersey, a Republican.

Roll Call quoted Republican strategists saying Peters will be hard to challenge because even as a Democrat he is supported by San Diego's business community. The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce endorsed Peters in August.

Photo credit: Photo Courtesy of Tommy Knepper

Jacquie Atkinson in an undated headshot.

Atkinson said in a statement about Gitsham's announcement that "as a highly decorated Marine Corps Combat Veteran I always welcome a challenge."

"With my extensive business background running a $408 million defense portfolio and the only person in this race with experience in the Middle East, I look forward to discussing the important foreign relations and economic issues facing our country," she said.

Atkinson is an openly gay Marine veteran. She served as a Marine platoon commander and company commander in Iraq and is a Wounded Warrior alumna, according to her campaign. She was honorably discharged and then took a job as a portfolio manager for the Joint Improvised Explosives Device Defeat Organization, working to reduce the impacts of improvised explosive devices.

Atkinson also serves on Mayor Kevin Faulconer's LGBT Advisory Board and is co‐chair of the San Diego County Sheriff's Advisory Board.

Her former campaign manager, Tommy Knepper, ran DeMaio's campaign in the last election. On Wednesday, Anastacia Knepper said she was now the campaign manager for Atkinson.

Gitsham is represented by Jason Roe, who ran DeMaio's San Diego mayoral campaign in 2012 but then had a falling out with him, according to a report by Voice of San Diego.

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Photo of Claire Trageser

Claire Trageser
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs a member of the KPBS investigative team, my job is to hold the powerful in San Diego County accountable. I've done in-depth investigations on political campaigns, police officer misconduct and neighborhood quality of life issues.

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