Constitutional conservatives opposed to bond indebtedness and to taking money from special interest groups fared poorly in Tuesday's elections.
But the chairman of the Sooner Tea Party said Wednesday the movement can't be considered a failure because incumbents had to work hard to win re-election and the campaign experience will be helpful in future races.
“The others've got to notice that if they vote bad, they'll generate challengers,” Al Gerhart said.
“Everybody knows that this last round that moderate Republicans got a lot of challengers.
“The end thing is we win by fighting. Our people are smarter now. More people know how to run a campaign, more people know how to raise money, they know the process. It's just going to get better.”
It also highlights the importance of money in legislative political campaigns, Gerhart said.
“It takes money to do this,” he said. “No matter how much grass roots you've got, the money can trump it.”
Gerhart, who became active in state politics two years ago, said he is not discouraged that four contenders supported by the Sooner Tea Party in high-profile legislative races failed to win Tuesday.
Sens. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, and Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, along with Reps. Marian Cooksey, R-Edmond, and Glen Mulready, R-Tulsa, were re-elected despite spirited campaigns by GOP challengers.
Several other candidates supported by the Sooner Tea Party and other constitutional conservatives lost their bids to unseat four other incumbents.
But the constitutional conservatives are pleased that one of their candidates, Mike Turner, of Edmond, upset Rep. Guy Liebmann, R-Oklahoma City, in the House District 82 race and that two of their candidates, Nathan Dahm, of Broken Arrow, in the Senate District 33 race, and Ken Walker, of Tulsa, in the House District 70 race, will advance to the Aug. 28 Republican runoff election.
And the Rev. Dan Fischer, who describes himself as a social conservative, won the Republican nomination for the realigned House District 60 seat, which takes in much of the west Oklahoma City metro area. Fischer won 54.4 percent of the vote in the race against El Reno Mayor Matt White; he now faces a Democratic opponent in November.
Turner, 25, a political newcomer, campaigned on cutting state government spending. Liebmann, 75, who was elected to the House in 2004 after serving 10 years on the Oklahoma City Council, supported a $200 million bond issue to repair and renovate the state Capitol and other buildings in the Capitol complex.
Gerhart said Turner had one important commodity that the other constitutional conservative candidates lacked: money.
“He was a newcomer with money — that made all the difference,” he said. “It looks like where we can make a difference is whenever there's somewhat parity on the money then we can tip them over the edge. But if we're outspent 10-1, nothing we can do is going to help them.”
Gerhart said he believes voters also responded well to Turner's not taking money from political action committees.
“The people vs. the special interests is what this is all about,” he said. “Who will get in there and refuse the money from the special interests and govern for the public good?”
Turner loaned his campaign $70,000, campaign reports filed with the state Ethics Commission show. He raised $108,240 and spent $59,073 as of June 11. Liebmann, who raised $146,178, some of it from political action committees, had spent $43,895 as of June 11, according to the latest campaign reports.
Turner was unavailable Wednesday to talk about his victory, a campaign spokesman said.
Paul Blair, who garnered 43.4 percent of the vote in his race against Jolley in the Senate District 41 race, said he was glad that at least one incumbent was unseated in Tuesday's primary elections. He said he and his fellow challengers across the state did not lose on the issues, but rather were subjected to dirty campaign tactics by deep-pocketed campaigns.
“If they were able to successfully damage my reputation in Edmond where I have 49 years of history, what hope do we have at a state level or a national level?” Blair asked. “I just wish we could run on issues rather than on corrupt campaign managers turning it into a mudslinging contest.”
Kevin McDugle, who got 47 percent of the vote in his race against Crain in the Senate District 39 race, had similar frustrations.
“They outspent us 10-to-1, and had they run a clean race, we would have unseated them,” McDugle said. “This race is more about big companies. ... It's about those companies getting the people they want into office, and they fooled the people.”
McDugle said his campaign was hurt by ads paid for by a political action committee, the same group that targeted Blair.
The State Chamber financially supported six legislators who were attacked by constitutional conservative candidates. All six legislators won.
“We're really pleased with the results,” said Chad Warmington, chief operating officer of The State Chamber. “The pro-business mantle is going to be continued to be carried by these folks and we're excited about that.”
Warmington said The State Chamber didn't give money to Liebmann because it wasn't believed he needed financial help at first and “there weren't a lot of alarm bells” about Turner.
“In a situation like that where there's not a clear ideological difference and where an incumbent had the financial sources to go run a successful race, we stayed out of it,” he said.
Keith Gaddie, a University of Oklahoma political science professor, said tea party groups will have a difficult time getting candidates with little financial resources elected.
“They're supposed to be sort of the anti-big money crowd, but their one win came in a situation where they had a candidate who could spend even with the incumbent,” he said. “The rest of them, not so much.”
The biggest effect the Sooner Tea Party and other constitutional conservatives had on Tuesday's elections was forcing the targeted Republican legislators to reinforce their conservative values, Gaddie said.
“With a movement like this, part of the success isn't necessarily in electing candidates,” Gaddie said. “It's in forcing incumbents to speak to what you're concerned about. And they were able to do that.
“If anything, what they did, they got some people out there to run and half of them will never be back again. But some of them may run again and might win.
“It's why you do this,” he said, “is to grow a crop of candidates and to learn how to create an organization. Learn how to win.”