WASHINGTON — Republican Jim Bridenstine discovered early Wednesday that raising money for a general election will be a lot easier than it was before his upset victory of incumbent Rep. John Sullivan.
Bridenstine said in an interview that he had been swamped with calls from people who had been “sitting on the sidelines” during his race against Sullivan. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, also called, promising the maximum amount of funding he could provide.
Bridenstine said he had been outspent by at least a four-to-one margin by Sullivan, who had the power of incumbency behind his campaign in the 1st District.
But it was that incumbency that might have been his biggest enemy.
A U.S. Navy Reserve pilot and defense consultant, Bridenstine, 37, got help from some groups identified with the tea party movement and rode an anti-Washington wave to victory over Sullivan, of Tulsa, who has been in the U.S. House since 2002.
In complete but unofficial results, Bridenstine got 54 percent of the vote, a decisive victory that few likely saw coming.
“People are looking for new leadership,” Bridenstine said Wednesday. “People are dissatisfied with the out-of-control spending they're seeing from both parties. … People are looking for a new direction as far as spending and I benefited from that.”
Bridenstine, who has three degrees from Rice University and a Master of Business Administration degree from Cornell University, had never run for political office before. He said his campaign was “retail politics at its best” — lots of meet-and-greets at people's homes and going door to door.
Bridenstine said he couldn't match Sullivan's campaign spending, but he tried to maintain a presence in all segments.
“If he did four direct mail pieces, we did one,'' Bridenstine said. “If he ran four ads on TV, we ran one, if he ran four radio ads, we ran one.”
Bridenstine said he didn't have financial support from tea party groups, but did have endorsements and support from Tulsa's 9.12 Project, which is aligned with tea party values, and the Restoring America Project, which is led by tea party leaders.
“I've been called tea party,” Bridenstine said Wednesday. “At this point, I'm a Republican. I see the tea party as not really a cohesive group. There are as many different types of tea party folks as there are Republicans.”
Tea partyers generally believe in strict adherence to the U.S. Constitution, low taxes and low regulation, said Bridenstine, who has pledged to serve no more than six years in the House if he is elected.
Heading into the general election campaign against Democrat John Olson and independent Craig Allen, Bridenstine said his goal is to unite all Republicans.