WASHINGTON — Oklahoma’s only Democratic seat in Congress is up for grabs Tuesday in the sprawling eastern Oklahoma district where a plumbing company owner and a former prosecutor have been battling for votes.
A win by Markwayne Mullin, of Westville, would mean an all-Republican congressional delegation in Oklahoma for the first time since 2000 and reinforce claims that the state is the reddest in the nation: For the first time in history, Republicans would hold all of the statewide elected offices, all of the congressional seats and majorities in both houses of the state Legislature.
Republican lawmakers from across the country have pumped tens of thousands of dollars into Mullin’s campaign in the past few weeks, and Gov. Mary Fallin lent her support with appearances at campaign events Friday.
Democrat Rob Wallace, of Fort Gibson, planned to hit all 26 counties in the 2nd District before Election Day to appeal to a largely Democratic electorate that he would be a conservative voice in Washington.
All five U.S. House seats from Oklahoma are on Tuesday’s ballot, but the 2nd District race to replace retiring Rep. Dan Boren, D-Muskogee, is expected to be the closest.
Wallace, a former federal and state prosecutor, has received almost no help from the national Democratic Party but, until recently, managed to keep pace with Mullin’s fundraising.
By most measures, the seat would belong to a Democrat. The district was redrawn after Oklahoma lost a U.S. House seat in 2001 to consolidate heavily Democratic counties. Since then, only Boren and former Democratic Rep. Brad Carson have held the seat. Registered Democrats make up about 63 percent of the electorate.
But Boren’s retirement brought a slew of GOP hopefuls that knew the district could easily swing Republican with President Barack Obama at the top of the Democratic ticket.
Mullin had a major advantage in that he has built name recognition through years of ads for his plumbing company. The political novice’s message has been anti-Washington, and he criticized the House Republican budget for not cutting enough spending.
Instead of focusing on House Republicans’ efforts to reshape Medicare and curtail spending that helps many in the district, where some counties are chronically poor, Wallace ran a campaign focused on attacking Mullin for accepting plumbing contracts paid for with stimulus money and for not being protective of water in eastern Oklahoma.
Former state Sen. Kenneth Corn, the chairman of the 2nd District for the Oklahoma Democratic Party, said Friday that he thought Medicare and Social Security would have been more prominent in the campaign, though he stopped short of criticizing Wallace’s approach.
Corn predicted a close election and said it would be tough for some older voters who have been voting for Democratic lawmakers all their lives to cast ballots this time for a Republican.
“I think at the end of the day, it’s going to be decided on just who voters are most comfortable with,” Corn said.
Tom Montgomery, the 2nd District chairman for the Oklahoma Republican Party, said Mullin was “scrambling” to counter ads run by Wallace, but ultimately would prevail.
“Unless something changes drastically, I predict Markwayne will win,” Montgomery said Friday. “What we’re hoping is that they’ll vote for (Mitt) Romney and just go right down the line” and vote for other Republicans.
In the 1st congressional district, Republican Jim Bridenstine, of Tulsa, who knocked off incumbent Rep. John Sullivan in the primary, is facing Democrat John Olson, of Tulsa. Olson has made a credible run at the tea party-backed Bridenstine, but faces an uphill battle in a district that hasn’t sent a Democrat to Congress since 1984.