WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Dan Boren's retirement was expected to make his eastern Oklahoma congressional district a national battleground this year, drawing big money and political operatives from both parties.
But that high-profile race hasn't materialized. The national Democratic Party has yet to throw money or muscle into the state to protect its only Oklahoma seat in Congress, and Republicans have seemed content to wait for Democrats to make the first move.
In the meantime, Democrat Rob Wallace and Republican Markwayne Mullin have been trekking across the 25 counties in the district, which overwhelmingly favors Democrats in registration but has overwhelmingly rejected the last two Democratic presidential candidates. Independent Michael G. Fulks, of Heavener, is also on the ballot.
An open-seat race in a district where President Barack Obama is deeply unpopular was quickly targeted by Republicans, and it drew a crowd of GOP candidates, including two who had served in the state Legislature. Two experienced Democrats considered the race but opted not to run; Wallace entered the race last October, when the Republican field was already set.
Wallace, of Fort Gibson, and Mullin, of Westville, were both forced into runoffs, but both easily won those late August contests, setting up the general election race.
Since the district was redrawn in 2001 to include the southeastern Oklahoma counties often referred to collectively as “Little Dixie,” only Democrats have won the seat — former Rep. Brad Carson and then Boren, of Muskogee, who has held it since 2005.
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, who has served as chairman and political director of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said the national Democratic Party likely would have gotten involved in the race by now if it were planning to do so. For Democrats, not investing heavily in the race at this point “is like running up the white flag,” he said.
“I think this is largely going to be left to the two candidates,” Cole said.
Wallace Collins, chairman of the Oklahoma Democratic Party, said, “I don't think that's necessarily the case.”
Collins said the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the arm of the national party that works on U.S. House races, is monitoring the 2nd District congressional race but has not yet been convinced to commit resources to it.