WASHINGTON — Some of the candidates seeking the eastern Oklahoma congressional seat have been in the race for almost a year, jumping in just weeks after Rep. Dan Boren announced he wouldn't run for a fifth term.
They have traveled the 26 counties, made hundreds of speeches, shook thousands of hands, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and now look to the voters to narrow down the choices.
There are congressional primaries Tuesday in four of Oklahoma's five districts. In three, Republican incumbents are being challenged.
Six Republicans and three Democrats are vying for nominations in the 2nd District, which, as currently drawn, has never been represented by a Republican.
Boren's seat is expected to be a national target for Republicans hoping to hang on to their majority in the House and looking for a pickup in an area where Democrats bear little philosophical resemblance to their national party's leaders.
Plumbing company owner Markwayne Mullin, a Republican, was the first to file a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission — his came on July 1 — and he has spent the most on the race, nearly $600,000 through June 6.
And though a recent internal poll released by his campaign showed the political newcomer with the lead over the other five GOP hopefuls, the bloc of undecided voters was still the biggest.
With his large cash advantage, Mullin has hired a team of seasoned fundraisers, consultants and pollsters and has been able to keep his television commercials running in a district where candidates must buy time in Tulsa and at stations in Texas, Missouri and Arkansas to reach all of the voters.
State Rep. George Faught, a Muskogee Republican who has been endorsed by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and national conservative groups like the Family Research Council, boasted last week of a strong ground organization in a race where turnout will be crucial.
In 2010, with a Republican gubernatorial primary on the ballot, fewer than 25,000 GOP voters showed up to vote for six other Republican candidates vying for the 2nd District congressional seat.
That primary produced a runoff, and state Republican leaders are expecting another one this year.
The other Republican candidates are former state Rep. Wayne Pettigrew, of McAlester; former Tishomingo Mayor Dustin Rowe; Marine Corps veteran and homeland security expert Dakota Wood, of Claremore; and pastor Dwayne Thompson, of Fort Gibson.
The GOP candidates have avoided public attacks on each other; in their most recent ads, Faught and Mullin seem to be in general election mode already with their criticisms of President Barack Obama.
Democrats at war
The Democratic primary in the 2nd District turned negative last week when Rob Wallace and Wayne Herriman went public with their opposition research — dredged up old business records that both candidates said misrepresented the truth.
Herriman, a seed company owner from Muskogee, is campaigning as a fresh face and using much of his own money to tout the business experience he could take to Washington.
Wallace, a former district attorney and state prosecutor from Fort Gibson, is running on a vow to protect Medicare from Republican budget-cutters and Oklahoma water from out-of-state interests.
The third candidate in the race, Earl E. Everett, a retired teacher from Fort Gibson, has not run a campaign, but depending on the closeness of the race, could force a runoff on the Democratic side if he keeps Wallace or Herriman from getting just over 50 percent of the vote.
Incumbent Reps. Tom Cole, R-Moore; Frank Lucas, R-Cheyenne; and John Sullivan, R-Tulsa, all face primary challenges on Tuesday, though only Sullivan has an opponent who has mounted a serious campaign.
U.S. Navy Reserve pilot Jim Bridenstine, of Tulsa, has sought to portray Sullivan as ineffective and has accused him of “erratic and aggressive behavior.”
Sullivan has aggressively attacked Bridenstine, and has collected tens of thousands of dollars from Washington-based interests in the past week that could overwhelm the newcomer's resources.
Cole is being challenged by Gary D. Caissie, of Norman; while Lucas' opponent is William Craig Stump, of Drumright.
Democratic newcomer Donna Bebo, of Frederick, is running against Bert Smith, of Moore, in the 4th District primary; Smith previously ran in the 5th District, which includes Oklahoma City.
Frankie Robbins, of Medford, who has run previously in the 3rd District, is facing Timothy Ray Murray, of Guthrie, in that district's Democratic primary on Tuesday.