The endorsement of an Oklahoma City businessman, who captured 19 percent of the Republican vote in the GOP primary last month, may have a big say in who will be the November challenger to Democrat U.S. Rep. Kendra Horn.
Both Terry Neese, who finished first in the primary, and State Sen. Stephanie Bice, who finished second, sought the endorsement of David Hill, who captured more than 12,000 votes in his unsuccessful campaign to reach the runoff, which is scheduled for Aug. 25.
“Oklahomans cannot afford more taxes, open borders, or the socialist agenda being peddled by left-wing Democrats,” Hill said in a Neese press release. “We need to defeat liberal Kendra Horn, fire Nancy Pelosi, and flip the House red this fall. Terry Neese is a pro-life, pro-gun, conservative, and she has our full support as she fights to beat Kendra Horn and deliver President Trump’s agenda.”
After two weeks of deliberation following the primary, Hill’s endorsement of Neese was announced by the businesswoman Tuesday morning.
Hill’s endorsement pushes Neese, who received 36.5 percent of the more than 68,000 votes cast, further past her opponent 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 situation is a trend found by Keith Gaddie, an OU journalism and political science professor. Gaddie said the candidate leading in the primary ultimately wins the runoff about 75 percent of the time, both nationally and in Oklahoma, suggesting Neese’s primary win gives her a leg up entering the runoff.
In either case, the GOP candidate will emerge in a strong position headed toward the Nov. 3 general election, according to GOP stalwarts.
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. The area was last represented by former Congressman Dave McCurdy from 1981-1995.
“It has been a Republican stronghold up until the last election a couple years ago,”said DeWayne McAnally, the Oklahoma Republican Party’s 5th Congressional District chairman. “I think it is one of the top three races (…) in the country right now.”
Bice touts experience to close gap with Neese
Johnson suggested that a challenge for Bice, who outspent Neese by 35 percent in the primary, 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. “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.”
Neese says she is ‘the most pro-Trump person’
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 the emphasis on 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. Some OKC Republicans criticized the ad as being in poor taste.
“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 30 primary. “I would anticipate, between now and the end of the runoff, more of the same.”
Money matters, GOP candidates trail Horn
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.
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 raise and spend money to stay competitive in the GOP 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.”