WASHINGTON — Fighting in the sprawling congressional district in eastern Oklahoma, Markwayne Mullin and Rob Wallace have collected small donations from local residents and thousands of dollars from Washington special interests. They have plowed those contributions back into their campaigns, buying ads and yard signs and paying aides and consultants.
Across the state, in the large western Oklahoma district long controlled by Rep. Frank Lucas, there is a different campaign model — that of a safe incumbent acting as a fundraising operation for fellow Republicans.
Through Sept. 30, Lucas, R-Cheyenne, had spent more than $1 million — about the same as Mullin and more than Wallace — in the two-year election cycle. More than two-thirds of Lucas' money came from political action committees. And he directed more than half of the money he raised for his campaign to other GOP campaign organizations.
Neither of the situations is unique in — or to — Oklahoma. Mullin, a Republican, and Wallace, a Democrat, are running for the seat being vacated by Democratic Rep. Dan Boren, and open-seat races are typically competitive and expensive; both had to advance through two preliminary rounds to get their parties' nominations.
Early on, Mullin, a plumbing company owner from Westville, was a major contributor to his own campaign, loaning nearly $276,000 to the cause and contributing thousands more. But he has collected money all across the district and state, with the construction, finance, real estate and oil and gas sectors being particularly helpful, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Since winning the runoff primary in late August, Mullin has gotten a significant boost from congressional Republicans, who have donated from their own campaigns and the political action committees they control.
Wallace, a former prosecutor from Fort Gibson, has received almost no help from the Democratic Party, but has collected a large portion of his campaign money from traditional party constituencies: organized labor and lawyers. Those were the two sectors contributing the most to Wallace's campaign through the runoff, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and both have sent more money since then.
Still, both candidates have received donations from a variety of sources in and out of the district — ranchers, bankers, car dealers, educators, retirees, homemakers, small business owners, mayors, sheriffs and others.
And the two are spending their money on traditional campaign activities, according to an analysis of their campaign expenses through Sept. 30. For both, advertising — on the air and through the mail — has been a dominant expense.
Mullin, who is running his first political race, has spent far more than Wallace on outside consultants, both for strategy and fundraising help. Wallace's campaign has devoted much more money than Mullin to payroll.
The winner of the hotly contested race may someday be in the same situation as Lucas — as a popular incumbent who doesn't draw strong opponents.
Lucas has held his seat since 1994 and has typically coasted to re-election while raising far less money than the average House seat winner. His Democratic opponent this year, Tim Murray, has reported raising $374.
But since becoming, first, the top Republican on the House Agriculture Committee, and, last year, the chairman, Lucas has had more responsibility for helping other Republican candidates. He told The Oklahoman last year that his increased activity on the fundraising circuit was attributable to his leadership position.
For most of the past two years, his House campaign functioned as a national fundraising machine: It spent nearly $200,000 just on fundraising consultants and food. And through Sept. 30, Lucas had given $580,000 to GOP causes, primarily the National Republican Congressional Committee.
That changed this month, as Lucas dropped more than $200,000 on broadcast and newspaper ads about himself.
Lucas is certainly not the only House leader who has become a fundraiser for party candidates; he's just one of many.
In fact, House Speaker John Boehner, who doesn't even have a Democratic opponent, had spent $20 million in campaign funds through Sept. 30 — more than any other House candidate — with about $12 million going to Republican campaign organizations and candidates.