WASHINGTON — Rep. John Sullivan became the first Oklahoma congressman ousted in 18 years Tuesday, as political newcomer Jim Bridenstine staged a Republican primary upset in the Tulsa-area district Sullivan has represented for a decade.
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 succeed 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.
“This is a victory,” Herriman said. “We have the momentum and force to win in August ... (It) shows that all theendorsements and career politicians are not in control of the voters in the 2nd District.”
On the Republican side, plumbing company owner Markwayne Mullin led a field of six with 42 percent of the vote, while state Rep. George Faught came in second with 22 percent.
“When I started this race, I was just a businessman from Westville, Oklahoma, with no political background,” Mullin said. “I didn’t have the backing of powerful politicians or special interest groups, but we had a ton of support from average Oklahomans who shared my belief that we need to stop Barack Obama’s socialist agenda in Washington, D.C.
“I’m looking forward to a runoff campaign to decide who will be our Republican nominee, and I hope the campaign will be a positive one.”
Faught, of Muskogee, didn’t appear to be in a positive mood, calling Mullin “a flawed candidate who cannot win” the general election in November.
He said he was thrilled to have forced a runoff despite being heavily outspent by Mullin, who put more than $275,000 of his own money into the race.
“Our campaign has been fueled by small contributions from within the district and an army of volunteers,” Faught said. “Tonight our campaign begins anew.”
Two other incumbents with primary challenges sailed easily to their nominations.
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, got 88 percent of the vote to defeat Gary D. Caissie, of Norman.
“I look forward to making my case in the general election to the many Democrats and independents who also have the conservative convictions and concerns so typical of most Oklahomans, regardless of their political affiliation,” Cole said.
Cole will face Donna Marie Bebo, of Fletcher, who got 58 percent of the vote in defeating Bert Smith, of Moore.
Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Cheyenne, had no problem with William Craig Stump, of Drumright, capturing 88 percent of the vote.
Lucas will face Democrat Timothy Ray Murray, of Guthrie, who got 52 percent of the vote to defeat Frankie Robbins, of Medford.