Oklahoma GOP Runoff Tuesday Will Decide House Freshman Opponent

  • GOP candidates back Trump’s handling of the pandemic
  • Oklahoma City-area district among most Republican in nation

GOP voters in the Oklahoma City region will pick a nominee Tuesday in one of the most Republican-leaning House districts held by a Democrat.

Businesswoman Terry Neese and state Sen. Stephanie Bice are competing in a runoff in the Oklahoma state capital-anchored 5th District. The winner will face freshman Rep. Kendra Horn, who turned in one of the biggest midterm upsets two years after President Donald Trump’s 13 percentage-point edge in the district in 2016.

Neese led Bice by 37% to 25% in the first-round primary in June. Both are running as stalwart conservatives on issues including gun rights and as full-throated supporters of Trump and his handling of the pandemic.

“I think our president has done an incredible job with this Chinese virus,” Neese said at a candidate debate last week, echoing the president’s description of Covid-19 that has drawn criticism from Asian-Americans. Bice said Trump “made the right decisions at the right time to keep this country moving, and I applaud that.” Neese and Bice oppose national and state government mask mandates.

A Neese campaign ad against Bice

Neese’s supporters include the Club for Growth, a small-government advocacy group. Neese and the Club’s super PAC attacked Bice’s 2018 vote to increase taxes on motor fuels, cigarettes, and oil and gas production. The measure, which funded pay raises for teachers, was overwhelmingly passed by a Republican legislature and signed by a GOP governor.

Bice said Oklahoma lawmakers acted responsibly. “At some point you’ve got to lead and you’ve got to make some tough choices,” she said. Bice described the Club for Growth as the “original never Trumper organization,” a reference to its opposition to Trump during the 2016 Republican presidential primaries.

Leaked Tapes

In the waning days of the runoff, The Frontier, an Oklahoma-based investigative and enterprise journalism outlet, reported that Neese abruptly withdrew as George W. Bush’s nominee to lead the U.S. Mint in 2005 at the behest of White House officials who received tapes of Neese instructing employees at her personnel services company how to lie to clients. Neese denied the report and said she withdrew on her own account to care for her ailing mother. Neese said the leaked tapes were “doctored” and blamed Bice, who denied any involvement.

A Bice campaign ad against Neese

Bice’s most recent donors include hedge-fund manager Daniel Loeb and the Oklahoma Bankers Association’s political action committee. Neese partially self-funded her campaign with at least $700,000, including $250,000 on Aug. 6.

Great America PAC, a leadership PAC founded by Vice President Mike Pence, donated to Bice on July 10 and to Neese on July 30.

Awaiting the runoff winner is Horn, who has focused on military housing, aerospace and mental health policy during her first term. Her early campaign ads emphasized bipartisanship and featured testimonials from Republicans, including a small-town mayor who said Horn helped him with a bridge project.

Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC supporting House Republicans, began airing an ad Aug. 20 that said Horn voted with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) about 90% of the time and wasted time on Trump’s impeachment. The percentage includes votes on procedure and uncontroversial legislation.

Horn opposed Democratic bills to expand protections for private sector workers’ right to unionize (H.R.2474) and to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour (H.R. 582). She also voted against the Democrats’ $3 trillion pandemic stimulus legislation (H.R. 6800) in May, saying it lacked bipartisan support.

Voting in the Republican runoff concludes at 8 p.m. ET.

To contact the reporter on this story: Greg Giroux in Washington at ggiroux@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bennett Roth at broth@bgov.com; Kyle Trygstad at ktrygstad@bgov.com