Republicans in Oklahoma’s 5th District will need a runoff to select a challenger to Democratic Rep. Kendra Horn, one of the most vulnerable members of Congress, after no one got a majority in Tuesday’s primary.
The Aug. 25 runoff will pit businesswoman Terry Neese, who ran a Trump-centric campaign, against state Sen. Stephanie Bice, who attempted to express support for the president while appealing to moderate suburban voters.
Neese, a 1990 candidate for lieutenant governor and owner of a personnel services business, led a nine-candidate GOP field with 37 percent. Bice, whose state Senate district overlaps with much of the 5th District, was in second place with 25 percent when The Associated Press called the runoff at 10:22 p.m. Central time with 98 percent of precincts reporting.
Businessman David Hill was in third with 19 percent.
The results guarantee that a woman will challenge Horn in November, a prospect Republicans hope will blunt some of the Democrat’s appeal with independent voters and suburban women who helped drive her surprise 2018 victory.
Republicans had held the 5th District, anchored in Oklahoma City and its suburbs, for more than 40 years before Horn upset Rep. Steve Russell two years ago. President Donald Trump carried the seat by 14 points in 2016, a major reason Horn is one of the most vulnerable Democrats in Washington this cycle. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the general election here a Toss-up.
Heading into the GOP runoff, Neese and Bice present starkly different visions of conservative values.
Neese hewed closely to the president’s policies, a strategy more likely to appeal to the party stalwarts who vote in primaries. She called Trump “the best president we have ever had,” in a recent debate. She also defended his response to the coronavirus pandemic and echoed his repudiation of “mob rule” when asked if she supported the Black Lives Matter movement.
Neese pledged to completely repeal the 2010 health care law and said her first priority in Congress would be “helping President Trump” fund the wall at the Mexican border to “stop the influx of drugs, violence, and crime.”
Bice toed the party line on issues popular among conservative Oklahoma voters, such as building the border wall, supporting gun rights and opposing abortion. But she offered more nuanced economic proposals than Neese and some of the more conservative candidates in the race.
She campaigned on her work in the state Senate to loosen the state’s restrictions on alcohol sales, saying it created 5,000 jobs. And she proposed investing in infrastructure and training workers for high-paying jobs in technology and engineering to help the economy recover from pandemic. She promised to support maintaining popular features of the health care law, such as coverage for preexisting conditions, while stripping the mandates she said restricted competition in the health care marketplace.
Bice was the top fundraiser in the primary, raising $1 million from a wide network of donors. She had $229,000 in the bank as of June 10. Outside groups that backed Bice included the American Jobs and Growth PAC, a super PAC that spent $92,000 for digital ads, and Future Leaders Fund, which spent $16,000 on robocalls.
Neese self-funded $450,000 of the $982,000 she raised for her campaign and had $353,000 in the bank on June 10.
She also had help from outside groups. Conservative Outsider PAC, which has also reportedly been active in the Tennessee race to replace retiring GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander, spent $34,000 on her behalf.
The anti-tax Club for Growth Action also spent $340,000 opposing Bice, airing ads in the weeks before the primary that said she “handed out” Oklahoma tax dollars to “Hollywood liberals” like “convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein.” Bice called the spot an insult to Oklahoma women and put out her own ad in response, saying the club’s spot was made by “Never Trumper D.C. swamp lobbyists” attacking her because she “stands with Trump.”
In the Democratic primary Tuesday, Horn was leading challenger Tom Guild, 91 percent to 9 percent, when the AP called the race less than 40 minutes after the polls closed. She had $2.4 million in the bank as of June 10.