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Fifth District To Decide If Conservatism Remains King In Oklahoma

State Sen. Stephanie Bice and businesswoman Terry Neese
State Sen. Stephanie Bice and businesswoman Terry Neese

The chances of an Oklahoma City state senator becoming the Republican challenger of Democrat U.S. Rep. Kendra Horn for the 5th congressional district House seat became more difficult on Tuesday.

State Sen. Stephanie Bice fell further behind her opponent, businesswoman Terry Neese, after Neese announced the endorsement of David Hill, who received 19 percent of the vote in the GOP primary, for the nomination.

Hill’s endorsement pushes Neese, who received 36.5 percent of the more than 68,000 votes cast, into what could be a commanding lead over Bice, who won 25.4 percent of the vote.

“Bice has a real uphill challenge, in my opinion,” said Tyler Johnson, a University of Oklahoma political science professor. 

Compounding Bice’s problems is a trend found by Keith Gaddie, an OU journalism and political science professor, showing that the candidate leading in the primary wins the runoff 75 percent of the time, both nationally and in Oklahoma, suggesting Neese’s primary win gives her a leg up entering the runoff.

The runoff’s winner will challenge Horn for her seat in the House in an election made crucial for Republicans by Horn’s unexpected win in 2018, which flipped the historically red seat to blue.  

DeWayne McAnally, the Oklahoma Republican Party’s 5th congressional district chairman, is confident the party’s candidate will take the seat back.

“It has been a Republican stronghold up until the last election a couple years ago,” said McAnally. “I think it is one of the top three races … in the country right now.” 

Johnson suggested that the downfall of Bice, who outspent Neese by 35 percent, may have been her coming across as more moderate than her fellow candidates.

“I don't know that she's necessarily much more moderate, but could be compared to her colleagues,” Johnson said. “A handful of them were running extremely conservative messages, or their strategy was, ‘Let's tie ourselves to the president as closely as possible,’ so by contrast, perhaps at the beginning, she looked a little bit different.”

While she has not followed a Trump-laden media strategy to the same degree as Neese, Bice said her six years in the Oklahoma state senate and conservative voting record speak for themselves.

“I’m the proven conservative candidate,” Bice said, who could not be reached about Hill’s endorsement. “It’s easy to say something, but it’s much harder to do it, and I feel like I have been able to prove to voters that I can actually do the job.”

In contrast, Neese’s expertise lies in business, not politics. However, she has had success garnering votes by making her outspoken loyalty to President Donald Trump the centerpiece of her campaign

“I think the voters are primarily looking for the most pro-Trump person and a fighter that will get things done,” Neese said. 

Johnson said Neese’s campaign has been less policy-specific than her opponent, but its staunch conservatism may have kept her away from some of the criticism Bice has received.

Last month, Club for Growth Action, a Super PAC in favor of free enterprise and limited government, distributed an attack ad linking Bice to former movie producer and convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein.

“That makes a significant impact when you’re unable to really respond to the negative attack ads,” Bice said. “It does put you at a disadvantage.”

Johnson said Bice has begun to drum up her conservative narrative recently by referencing Trump and his border wall, as well as using House Democrats as foils to herself.

“As we got closer to Tuesday, I thought that Bice really tried to shore up conservative credentials,” Johnson said referring to the June primary. “I would anticipate, between now and the end of the runoff, more of the same.”

As of June 10, Bice reported to the Federal Election Commission having raised $1,083,521, with $228,574 remaining on hand. 

Contributions to Bice’s campaign include donations from two Oklahoma State Senators, Roland Pederson and Greg McCortney, state Rep. Brad Boles, former state Rep. Mike Jackson and former State Chamber of Oklahoma president Fred Morgan.

Bice also received $10,000 from Elevate-PAC, a political action committee launched by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) to advance Republican women to congress, and $10,000 from Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC)’s Innovation PAC

Neese raised $982,358 as of June 10, but $450,000 came from a personal loan. Neese has $352,938 remaining on hand. 

“The fact that she has raised so much, and that it didn't translate into leading coming out of Tuesday is not a very good sign,” Johnson said.

But money raised by both Republican candidates falls short of Horn, who has raised $3,306,648 and has $2,411,533 remaining on hand.

Johnson said Horn has time to steadily grow her war chest, while Bice and Neese must quickly make and spend the money they raise to stay competitive in the runoff.

“She gets to sit back for the next two months, now until the runoff election, and watch Bice and Neese beat each other up,” Johnson said of Horn. 

However, money raised prior to the runoff may prove negligible in comparison to the money raised for the November election after a final GOP candidate is determined. 

“Whoever emerges is going to have an uphill battle in terms of raising enough money to be competitive in November,” Johnson said. “It's going to be incredibly reliant on outsiders to come in and spend in this race.”

Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to remove a sentence that inaccurately stated the 5th District was represented by Dave McCurdy from 1981-1995.

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