OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Hoping to build on huge gains in the 2010 elections, Republicans are setting their sights on the last large swatch of Democratic blue in Oklahoma — the state's sprawling 2nd Congressional District seat in eastern Oklahoma.
Thrown open last summer when U.S. Rep. Dan Boren announced plans to step down and not seek a fifth term, six Republicans are looking to flip the only Democrat-held seat in the state's congressional delegation from blue to red.
“This really is the big prize for the Republican Party in Oklahoma this year,” said Oklahoma's Republican Party Chairman Matt Pinnell. “It will be the biggest race in Oklahoma this year, outside of the presidential race. This is a battleground congressional race.”
The six Republicans are three-term state Rep. George Faught, 49, of Muskogee; business owner Markwayne Mullin, 34, of Westville; former Edmond state Rep. Wayne Pettigrew, 49, of McAlester; attorney and former Tishomingo Mayor Dustin Rowe, 36; Fort Gibson minister Dwayne Thompson, 54; and retired Marine Corps officer Dakota Wood, 49.
Democrats in the race are retired teacher Earl Everett, 78, of Fort Gibson; the owner of a Muskogee-based seed company, Wayne Herriman, 59; and former state and federal prosecutor Rob Wallace, 48, of Fort Gibson.
The winners of a June 26 primary election, and the Aug. 28 runoff election if no candidate captures more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary, will join independent Michael Fulks of Heavener in the general election.
The 2nd District stretches across 26 eastern Oklahoma counties, from the foothills of the Ozark Mountains in the northeast to the Red River border with Texas. Registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans 63 percent to 27 percent, but Republicans have held the seat before. The GOP also has won several state House and Senate races within the district in recent years, and President Barack Obama barely topped 42 percent among Democratic primary voters in the district in March against little-known, poorly funded opponents.
“There's not that much difference between Oklahoma Republicans and eastern Oklahoma Democrats,” said Dan Savage, a political science professor at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah. “I think of the district as populist, which means a group of individuals who are extremely conservative when it comes to social issues like religion and gun control, but maybe not so much on economic issues.”
Faught, who represents a largely Democratic House district in Muskogee, said he's proven he can appeal to Democrats.
“We've already won in a district with the same representation,” Faught said. “You can't alienate the Democrats … and I can appeal to them without compromising my core principles.”
Mullin, whose Mullin Plumbing company is known for its red vans, said he's confident voters will look beyond party affiliation and elect the best man for the job.
“People are fed up with politics, the same way I am,” said Mullin, who is making his first run for political office. “When you really start talking to people, it's all these regulations that are killing our industries.”
Mullin, who had a more than 2-to-1 fundraising advantage over everyone else in the race according to the most recent filings with the Federal Election Commission, also elected to stop running television ads for his business after a complaint was lodged with the FEC. Although there were conflicting opinions from the commission on whether the ads constituted electioneering, Mullin said he decided to stop airing them until after the election.