Bridenstine, a U.S. Navy Reserve pilot, led throughout the night and beat Sullivan by 54 percent, according to results from the state Election Board. Sullivan has fended off primary and general election challenges consistently, but Bridenstine mounted a hard-hitting campaign and, though outspent by Sullivan, had the resources to get his message across.
Bridenstine sought to portray Sullivan as part of the problem in Washington, while Sullivan defended himself as a conservative who has fought the Obama administration.
Bridenstine will face Democrat John Olson and independent Craig Allen in November.
Sullivan said, “Tonight the voters spoke. Unfortunately, we didn't come out on top. It is the honor of a lifetime to represent the people of the 1st District of Oklahoma. I've enjoyed working on their behalf and fighting for Oklahoma's energy industry, and I intend to spend the next few months working to make Barack Obama a one-term president. ... Congratulations to Jim Bridenstine. I'm sure he is looking forward to the general election. I am sure he will do a fine job representing the people of the 1st District of Oklahoma.”
The late Mike Synar, a Muskogee Democrat, was the last incumbent Oklahoma congressman to lose his seat to a challenger. Synar lost in a runoff primary in 1994.
The race to replace retiring Democratic Rep. Dan Boren narrowed on Tuesday, but Republicans and Democrats headed for the Aug. 28 runoffs since no candidate on either side could claim more than 50 percent of the vote.
In the Democratic primary in the 2nd District, which covers all or part of 26 eastern counties, former District Attorney Rob Wallace finished with 46 percent of the vote, while seed company owner Wayne Herriman had 41 percent.
Retired teacher Earl E. Everett took 12 percent of the vote, despite spending next to nothing and campaigning very little.
Wallace said he could have won without a runoff had Herriman not run a series of “negative, misleading and false ads.” He said voters want to talk about “Medicare, Social Security, jobs and water,” and not the things that Herriman wanted to talk about. Herriman ran an ad criticizing Wallace for once having a financial interest in a mining company that failed.