Democrats Flip Oklahoma Congressional Seat
By: Constitution Staff
The big news coming out of the Oklahoma congressional elections was the flipping of the Fifth District seat from Republican to Democrat. It was the only significant achievement for state Democrats in the 2018 elections. Oklahoma has not had a Democrat in Congress since 2012. And, it is the first time in state history that Oklahoma has sent a Democrat woman to Congress.
Neither of Oklahoma’s U.S. Senate seats were up for election in 2018, but all five of the state’s U.S. House seats were on the ballot. Senators serve six-year terms with only a third of the seats up each election year. Senator Jim Inhofe was reelected in 2014 and his term will not expire until after the 2020 election. Senator James Lankford was reelected in 2016 and his term will not be up until after the 2022 election. All five Oklahoma seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are up each election year since they serve two-year terms.
U.S. House – Fist District
First District (Tulsa area) incumbent Republican Jim Bridenstine did not run for a fourth term. When he first ran for Congress, Bridenstine pledged to only serve three terms. If there were any doubts whether he would change his mind and decide to run again, those were removed when he was nominated by President Trump to head the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The U.S. Senate confirmed Bridenstine’s appointment in April of last year and he resigned his seat in Congress. Since the vacancy occurred during an election year, the seat was filled in the regular election cycle rather than a special election being called. Ten candidates, including five Republicans and five Democrats, filed for the seat.
With five Republicans in the race, the Republican nominee was unlikely to be determined until the August 28 Runoff Primary between the two top finishers from the June 26 Primary. Kevin Hern won the nomination in the runoff. Hern, 56, is the owner of KTAK Coorporation which owns and operates ten McDonald’s restaurants that employ over 400 people in the Tulsa area. He has served as the chairman of the finance committee of the Oklahoma Republican Party.
It has been more than 30 years since a Democrat has held the seat, but five Democrats filed in the hope of flipping the open seat. As with the Republicans, with five Democrats in the race, it was considered unlikely that the nomination would be awarded in the June 26 election, and a runoff would be needed to select the nominee. Tim Gilpin won the nomination in the runoff. Gilpin, 57, of Tulsa has practiced law in Oklahoma since 1986 and served as an Assistant Attorney General under Robert Henry.
Hern is a strong supporter of the free enterprise system and the tax cuts pushed by President Donald Trump. He favors repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare). Gilpin thinks the tax cuts were a bad deal for most Americans and that the Affordable Care Act could still work if Republicans would give it a chance. Kern was elected as the new congressman with 59.3 percent of the vote. Gilpin received 40.7 percent. Hern was sworn into Congress early, November 13th, to serve the remainder of Bridenstine’s term rather than January when other new members started.
U.S. House – Second District
The Second District covers 26 counties in eastern Oklahoma, stretching south from the Kansas state line to the Red River border with Texas. After the 2010 census and minor redistricting, the district remains the most Democratic in the state in terms of registration. Congressman Markwayne Mullin, 40, ran for a fourth term. When he first ran for office in 2012, he said he would serve no more than six years in Congress, but decided to run for reelection in 2018 anyway. Mullin owns Mullin Plumbing which spans much of the state. He also has ranching operations in Adair and Wagoner counties.
Mullin was opposed for the Republican nomination by three candidates. While there was a possibility of a runoff since there were more than two candidates competing for the nomination, that is less likely where there is an incumbent. The big question was if Mullin would get over 50 percent of the vote and avoid a runoff. Mullin received 54% of the vote, securing the nomination without a runoff. He was challenged in the November election by the Democrat nominee, a Libertarian, and an independent candidate.
With four candidates vying for the Democrat nomination, a runoff primary was expected between the top two finishers in the June 26 primary election. Jason Nichols won the nomination in the runoff. Nichols, 43, was serving his second term as mayor of Tahlequah and is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Northeastern State University where he is now an instructor of Political Science.
In addition to the Republican and Democrat nominees, there were two other candidates on the November election ballot. Richard Castaldo, 36, of Grove was the only Libertarian to file. He is a street pastor with Grand Lake Life. John Foreman, 53, of Park Hill filed as an independent. He has worked in call center and plasma center management.
Mullin was reelected with 65.02 percent of the vote. Nichols finished second with 30.1 percent. Castaldo, the Libertarian Party candidate, received 1.92 percent. Foreman, the independent candidate, received 2.96.
U.S. House – Third District
The third district covers most of the north central and northwestern parts of the state, including the panhandle. Long-time Congressman Frank Lucas, 58, was first elected in a Special Election in 1994. Prior to that he served in the Oklahoma House of Representatives and compiled an 62% Oklahoma Conservative Index score. He is the longest serving member among the current Oklahoma Delegation in the U.S. House, and ran for reelection. Lucas received accolades from many conservative Republicans when he was the lone member of the House of Representatives from Oklahoma to vote against the big bank bailout in 2008. He was unopposed for the Republican nomination this year, but was challenged by a Democrat in the General Election.
Since only two Democrats filed, the Democrat nominee was determined in the June primary. Frankie Robbins, 72, of Medford was again the Democrat nominee. He lost to Lucas in 2008, 2010, and 2016. He also ran in 2012, but lost in the primary election.
Lucas was reelected with 73.87 percent of the vote. Robbins received 26.13 percent.
U.S. House – Fourth District
The Fourth District covers much of the south central and southwestern parts of the state. Congressman Tom Cole, 68, ran for reelection. Cole was first elected to Congress in 2002. While serving as a member of the state Senate before his election to Congress, Cole compiled an 80% Oklahoma Conservative Index score, placing him in the Top Conservatives list. However, his record in Congress has been less conservative. He had one challenger for the Republican nomination, but won the Republican nomination with 65% of the vote in the primary. In the November election he was opposed by the Democrat nominee, and also an independent candidate.
With four candidates competing for the Democrat nomination, a runoff primary was needed as expected. Mary Brannon won the runoff. Brannon, 66, is from Washington, Oklahoma. She is a teacher and school counselor. Ruby Peters, 74, of Lawton ran as an independent. She is a retired teacher and school administrator. In 2016 she ran for a seat in the Oklahoma House.
Cole won reelection with 63.06 percent of the vote. Brannon finished second with 33.0 percent, and Peters received 3.94 percent.
U.S. House – Fifth District
The Fifth District includes most of Oklahoma, Pottawatomie and Seminole counties. Former state Senator Steve Russell, 54, was elected to the seat in 2014 and was reelected in 2016. Russell earned a 74% Oklahoma Conservative Index score during his tenure in the Oklahoma Legislature. He is the author of We Got Him! A Memoir of the Hunt and Capture of Saddam Hussein and served 21 years as a combat Infantry officer in the U.S. Army. He lives in Choctaw. He had two challengers for the Republican nomination in 2018, and defeated both in the June 26 primary, winning nearly 84% of the vote.
As we noted in our article before the November election: “As more Republican voters have moved outside the Oklahoma City metro area, Democrats have been able to flip some legislative seats in the district to Democrat. This has given them hope that they could flip the seat in Congress as well.”
Six candidates filed for the Democrat nomination, which made a runoff primary nearly certain. Kendra Horn won the Democrat runoff with 76% of the vote over Tom Guild who has become a perennial candidate. Horn is a professional mediator and executive director of Women Lead Oklahoma which is a nonprofit organization working to empower women to be leaders and be engaged in civil activities. She was press secretary for former Second District Congressman Brad Carson and previously managed political campaigns. She served as executive director of Sally’s List which supports women running for elected office. She lives in Oklahoma City and is a native of Chickasha.
Horn narrowly defeated Russell in the November election, garnering 50.7 percent of the vote. The last time that a Democrat was elected to the seat was in 1974 when longtime congressman John Jarman narrowly won reelection. He had held the seat since being elected in 1950. Jarman changed his party registration from Democrat to Republican in 1975 in the hopes of holding on to the seat as a Republican. He decided not to run in 1976 as it appeared unlikely that he would win the GOP nomination. He was replaced by Republican Mickey Edwards who had challenged him in 1974. Edwards held the seat until he lost the GOP nomination in 1992 as a result of the U.S. House banking scandal. He was replaced by another Republican, Ernest Istook, who held the seat until 2006 when he ran for governor. Mary Fallin was then elected and held the seat unto 2010 when she ran and was elected governor. She was replace by James Lankford who had the seat until 2014 when he ran and was elected to the U.S. Senate.
Russell’s loss to Horn can be attributed to a number of factors. Russell did not run an aggressive campaign, until the end, when it was too late. While Horn ran a negative campaign against Russell, he chose not to respond in kind. As a result, voters did not know about Horn’s liberal stance on a host of issues. As previously noted, the Oklahoma City area which makes up the majority of the population of the district, has been trending toward Democrats. They had flipped a couple of seats in special elections in the last couple of years. That shift continued in the 2018 elections.
In the governor’s race, despite being trounced statewide, Drew Edmondson became the first Democratic gubernatorial candidate to win Oklahoma County since Brad Henry’s reelection in 2006. In the November 2018 election, three seats in the Legislature (two Senate seats and one House seat) which had been held by Republicans, flipped to Democrat this time. So, Russell was not the only one to experience this Democratic shift. Horn won despite losing Pottawatomie and Seminole counties by significant margins. But Horn easily outpaced Russell in much of Oklahoma County, including some precincts where she received more than 90 percent of the vote.
Another factor that cannot be ignored is that Horn out raised and out spent Russell. Horn raised nearly $1.2 million and spent most of it. Russell raised just under $1 million, but still had nearly $300,000 in cash on hand at the end of the campaign. Mike Bloomberg’s Independence USA political action committee also joined in with over $400,000 in television ads supporting Horn and attacking Russell in the final week of the race.
The Democratic Party and the Horn campaign also deserve some credit for turning out the vote, not just on election day, but before. Russell was actually slightly ahead in the votes cast on election day, receiving 99,470 votes to Horn’s 98,972. However, Horn received 1,407 more of the absentee votes, and 2,429 more from the early voting. There was a concerted strategy to capture those votes, a strategy which succeeded.
Congresswoman Horn has already started raising funds for her 2020 reelection campaign. That campaign will demonstrate if her election was a fluke, or could serve as the blueprint for other Democrats to win election.
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