State Sen. Stephanie Bice won the Republican nomination Tuesday to challenge vulnerable freshman Democrat Kendra Horn in Oklahoma’s 5th District after a contentious primary runoff that tested whether GOP primary voters will always side with the most ardent supporter of President Donald Trump.
Bice was leading businesswoman Terry Neese 52 percent to 48 percent when The Associated Press called the Republican runoff for the Oklahoma City-area district at 9:25 p.m. Central time.
Bice has expressed admiration for the president. But she didn’t mention him as frequently as her opponent, who said Trump was “the best president we have ever had,” and hewed closely to his agenda.
Bice focused instead on her record defending “conservative values” such as fiscal responsibility, abortion opposition and gun rights.
She was also potentially boosted by a string of negative news reports about Neese’s past business practices and claims about her biography in the week before the election.
Trump did not endorse either candidate, and both were listed by the National Republican Congressional Committee as “contenders,” its second-highest level for strong recruits.
Neese was the top vote-getter in the nine-way June 30 Republican primary, finishing ahead of Bice, 37 percent to 25 percent. Since no candidate got more than 50 percent, a runoff was needed to choose the nominee. Horn coasted in the Democratic primary, winning 86 percent against a challenger who spent $11,000.
Neese made late loan of $250,000
Bice led Neese in fundraising, with $1.5 million raised through Aug. 5 compared with Neese’s $1.2 million, which included a $450,000 loan. Neese loaned herself an additional $250,000 after those fundraising reports were filed.
Bice, who is endorsed by the National Rifle Association, began the runoff campaign with attack ads questioning Neese’s commitment to gun rights. In another recent ad, she argued that she was the candidate best positioned to beat a Democrat.
But she was targeted by deep-pocketed outside groups that pummeled her on the airwaves.
The anti-tax Club for Growth, which endorsed Neese after the primary, had already been paying for ads attacking Bice for months.
The group spent $960,000 opposing Bice, including on a TV ad in the runup to the primary that linked her to “convicted rapist and Democrat donor” Harvey Weinstein because of her vote for a film tax credit. Recently, the group put out an ad claiming that Bice had voted to raise her own legislative salary “while Oklahomans were losing jobs because of COVID 19.” That claim has been refuted by local media and Bice said the club had ignored a request from her campaign to take down the ad.
Negative stories broke against Neese
And the spending on Bice’s behalf didn’t always work in her favor. She got $92,000 in support from the American Jobs and Growth PAC, which circulated fliers falsely claiming she had been endorsed by the anti-abortion group Oklahomans for Life, creating an opening for Neese, who accused Bice of lying about that endorsement and another from Vice President Mike Pence.
But those attacks were blunted in the week before the runoff when news broke that Neese had allegedly instructed employees at her former company to mislead clients, that she had profited from a charity that she runs and that she had made misleading statements about her relationship to the Cherokee Nation.
Other outside groups spending on the race include the Future Leaders Fund, which spent $16,000 supporting Bice. Conservative Outsider PAC and Freedomworks for America spent $34,000 and $2,500 respectively on Neese’s behalf.
Bice emerges with less than $100,000 on hand as of Aug. 5. Horn, the surprise 2018 winner of what had been considered a safe Republican seat, had $2.6 million in the bank at the end of June and was already on the airwaves with ads featuring Republican supporters.
Money is already flowing into the November race, with groups from both sides reserving millions of dollars in airtime for ads this fall in the Oklahoma City market. After winning by just 1point in a district Trump carried by 14 points in 2016, Horn is one of the 10 most vulnerable House members running this year. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the general election a Toss-up.
After Bice's victory, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released a poll taken Aug. 5 to 9 that showed Horn leading Bice 51 percent to 46 percent, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
“Over the past year, Stephanie Bice has shown the people of the 5th Congressional District that her priorities are all wrong," DCCC Chair Cheri Bustos said in a statement.
The poll also showed Trump leading Democratic nominee Joe Biden by just 1 point, 48 percent to 47 percent. In 2016, Trump beat Hillary Clinton 53 percent to 40 percent in the district.