2024 primary election night
Legislators speak on the floor of the Oklahoma State Senate on Wednesday, May 8, 2024. (Michael Duncan)

After you finish reading 26 election previews for open seats in the Oklahoma Legislature, consider this one last cheat sheet about 14 incumbent lawmakers whose races bear watching this Election Night.

In short, the Oklahoma Republican Party’s internal battle over how far right it should lean has staunch conservatives challenging more moderate incumbents and PAC-backed challengers pushing to disrupt hardline targets. In the State Senate, the lingering power struggle has offered bitter dynamics in several seats.

Without further ado, send your friends this link for real-time results after 7 p.m. Tuesday. If you’re feeling generous, chip into The Pizza Fund.

To double check your ballot and where you’re registered to vote, use the state’s online voter portal. To tune out until the final score, sign up for our direct-text program.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday. Happy voting!

Commercial cacophony defines Bondar v. Cole

Anyone who has tried to watch an episode of local news, Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune in the last two months is aware of the intense and often tedious campaign between U.S. Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK4) and challenger Paul Bondar for Oklahoma’s 4th Congressional District. The commercials — some of the only TV ads all cycle — sling mud back and forth with ominous tones.

According to Paul Bondar, Cole is a grifter who wants to cut Social Security and — in a horrific development sure to curl the toes of some GOP voters — said something vaguely pleasant about Democrat Adam Schiff that one time.

In perhaps the year’s most unexpected political calculation, Bondar has also been endorsed by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters.

According to Cole and the dark money groups associated with him, Bondar is a carpetbagging Texan who didn’t pay his taxes on a “luxury home” in Illinois. And, oh yeah, in case it wasn’t clear, Bondar is not from Oklahoma. But he may also have ties to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin?

And in perhaps the year’s ultimate trump card, Cole’s ads note that Donald Trump supports him while Bondar simply stands next to a cutout of the former president.

Cole, 75, has been in Congress since 2003, and he became the first Native American to serve as chairman of the all-powerful House Appropriations Committee in April.

Bondar, 44, owned an insurance company that he sold in 2021 and once served as a city manager of Marquette, Michigan, in the early 2000s. The three other Republican challengers to Cole this year — Nick Hankins, Andrew Hayes and Rick WhiteBear Harris — appeared in a Bondar ad endorsing him over Cole.

There’s been precious little public polling on this CD 4 race, and by that we mean nothing released publicly. After receiving 76 percent GOP support in 2020 and 70 percent in 2022 against unknown challengers, Cole is widely seen as the safe bet given his longevity in Oklahoma politics. Could millions of dollars in TV ads buy Bondar an upset?

We’ll know Tuesday night when this campaign of commercial cacophony mercifully ends.

Keep an eye out for House hit jobs

Rep. John Talley (R-Stillwater) votes for a bill from the House gallery on Tuesday, April 25, 2023. (Michael Duncan)

Plenty of House Republicans drew opponents in 2024, so this last-minute list of districts to watch will be far from comprehensive — and quite possibly offensive to challengers omitted and incumbents included.

Nonetheless, the challenges of House district incumbents worth watching includes at least these seats.

HD 2: Rep. Jim Olsen (R-Roland) v. E.O. Harris

As one of the most vocal Christian conservatives in the Oklahoma House, Rep. Jim Olsen can be a polarizing figure. Some people love him, some people do not. Elected in 2018 to succeed similarly conservative Rep. John Bennett, Olsen drew a Republican primary opponent this year: E.O. Smith, a member of the Vian City Council and member of the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council who has been making friends at the State Capitol and handing out hats bearing his phone number.

HD 28: Rep. Danny Williams (R-Seminole) v. Darlene Wallace

During meetings of committees on which Rep. Danny Williams serves, State Capitol observers often make bets about whether Williams will reference his first stint as Democratic House member in the 1990s. The smart money always plays “Yes.”

But another longtime politically engaged figure is challenging him in the House District 28 GOP primary: Darlene Wallace, the president and CEO of Columbus Oil Co. and a board member of the Oklahoma Energy Producers Alliance and the Domestic Energy Producers Alliance. Wallace is close to HD 28’s prior officeholder, former Sen. Zach Taylor.

HD 32: Rep. Kevin Wallace (R-Wellston) v. Jason Shilling and Jim Shaw

You might think House Appropriations and Budget Committee Chairman Kevin Wallace would have a clean path to a resounding victory in a Lincoln County seat only in line for further investment owing to his powerful position as one of the key decision-makers at the Capitol, and you may be right.

On the other hand, a pair of candidates — former Perkins Mayor Jason Shilling and rancher Jim Shaw — are attempting to challenge Wallace from the political right, and it’s possible they could muster enough combined consternation to force a runoff.

Shaw has appeared on an episode of the Reclaim Oklahoma Parent Empowerment video podcast, while Shilling rails on his website against “bio sludge dumping,” a “wind turbine invasion” and Wallace’s number of missed votes, a common statistic referenced against a chamber’s budget chairman owing to their fiscal negotiation obligations.

HD 33: Rep. John Talley (R-Stillwater) v. Molly Jenkins

Rep. John Talley lists a number of conservative bona fides on his website, but his own strong Christian views sometimes leave him voting opposite the majority of the GOP Caucus. While he boasts an endorsement from Attorney General Gentner Drummond — who praised his vote for HB 4156, a controversial anti-immigration bill — Talley is often rumored to be in trouble during primary season. In 2022, he won reelection by 205 votes.

This time around, Talley is being challenged by Molly Jenkins, a former teacher who lives with her husband on a farm outside of Coyle. She has pledged to reject all lobbyist money, attacked Talley for having a “proposal to give driver’s licenses to illegal aliens” and called him “an ensconced liberal.”

HD 41: Rep. Denise Crosswhite Hader (R-Piedmont) v. Shea Bracken

A self-described “constitutional conservative,” Rep. Denise Crosswhite Hader posted a statement Monday saying she respects her opponent but does not appreciate his campaign consultant’s “half-truths and full-lies.”

Her opponent, Shea Bracken is an attorney with Maples, Nix & Diesselhorst and former Marine Corps member. His few Facebook posts do not mention his incumbent opponent but do tout run-of-the-mill conservative values and promises.

Crosswhite Hader was first elected to HD 41 with 52 percent of the vote in 2018, but she has not been challenged in a GOP primary since. The district’s boundaries have changed since redistricting, running from Cashion to Piedmont.

Senate sideswipes possible

Sen. Casey Murdock (R-Felt) speaks on the Senate floor on Tuesday, April 25, 2023. (Michael Duncan)

For years, the Oklahoma Senate Republican Caucus has faced significant internal drama between competing factions. While those disagreements have been most visible in terms of policy priorities on tax topics and in February’s leader-designee caucus vote, this cycle’s candidate filings saw opponents challenged many members.

Some incumbents are being opposed from the right in an effort to align the caucus more with Gov. Kevin Stitt and grassroots activities, but other incumbents are being challenged because of their harder-right stances and decisions not to support the current leadership regime.

In all, the following Senate Republican matchups bear watching Tuesday night as votes trickle in.

SD 1: Sen. Micheal Bergstrom (R-Adair) v. Houston Brittain

Houston Brittain is Sen. Micheal Bergstrom’s only challenger for the SD 1 seat representing the northeast corner of the state. Brittain, a farm operator, small business owner and risk-management specialist, does not mention his incumbent opponent on his website or Facebook page but calls himself a “conservative candidate.”

Bergstrom, who is himself on the right side of the Senate Republican caucus, also avoids mentioning his opponent by name on his website. A former teacher, Bergstrom touts two bills online that he says prevent trans women from competing in women’s sports and outlaw nonbinary birth certificates. On his Facebook page, Bergstrom posted a video of Gov. Kevin Stitt endorsing him and saying that “dark money is coming after [Bergstrom] just like it came after me.”

SD 3: Sen. Blake Stephens (R-Tahlequah) v. Julie McIntosh and Patrick Sampson

After the Oklahoma Legislature redistricted its seat boundaries following the 2020 U.S. census, Senate District 3 became a little less rural and a little more urban, stretching from the Cherokee County home of Sen. Blake “Cowboy” Stephens west through Wagoner County to the edge of Broken Arrow.

Challenging Stephens in the Republican primary are Wagoner City Councilman Patrick Sampson and Dr. Julie McIntosh, who is receiving support from Corporation Commissioner Kim David, the former State Senate elected official from Wagoner County before redistricting and term limits. Will Stephens’ challengers draw more support from the new portion of his district, or will they split the Wagoner vote and let the cowboy ride to reelection?

SD 13: Senate Floor Leader Greg McCortney (R-Ada) v. Jonathan Wingard

Tuesday marks the second key election Senate Majority Leader Greg McCortney has faced this year. In February, members of the Senate Republican Caucus selected him as their designee to become the upper chamber’s president pro tempore in 2025. He won the private caucus election outright on the first ballot, topping three challengers with 20-some votes in the 40-member caucus. The Senate will formally vote on its next president pro tempore in November on organizational day for the 60th Oklahoma Legislature.

Before then, however, McCortney has to win Tuesday’s primary election against Jonathon Wingard, of Ada. A retired employee of the Oklahoma National Guard, Wingard has served in Afghanistan and Kuwait. Wingard told The Oklahoman he is concerned how McCortney served as floor leader, criticizing him for not allowing certain bills be heard on the floor. Wingard also criticized McCortney for voting against Phase Two funding for a new Department of Public Safety tactical training center.

As a top legislative leader entering his final reelection, McCortney has accumulated a significant campaign war chest. As of June 10, he reported raising $308,119 and spending $59,452, leaving him with $248,668 on hand. Wingard reported raising $21,172 and spending $3,558, leaving him with $17,614 on hand as of June 10. With no Democratic or other candidate seeking the seat, Tuesday’s primary will decide the Senate District 13 seat. 

SD 17: Sen. Shane Jett (R-Shawnee) v. Rachel Melot v. Ron Sharp v. Cody Swearington

If reelected, incumbent Sen. Shane Jett term limits would be forced out of office two years into what would otherwise be a four-year term. One of the Senate’s more conservative members, Jett is facing primary challenges from three people, including the man he defeated for SD 17 four years ago: former Sen. Ron Sharp, a retired teacher and tennis coach who clashed with and won a judgment against Epic Charter Schools.

The two experienced candidates also face Liberty University master’s student and OSU undergraduate alumnus Cody Swearingen, as well as bank executive, entrepreneur and former NCAA basketball referee Rachael Melot. No other candidates filed to run for the Shawnee-area seat.

Jett, a Cherokee Nation citizen and U.S. Navy veteran, was targeted by a series of negative mailers from political action committees even before the year’s filing period.

SD 27: Sen. Casey Murdock (R-Felt) v. Cody Anderson

Similarly, Tuesday’s State Senate primary in northwest Oklahoma features a veteran lawmaker versus a political newcomer and PAC-backed attack mailers.

Sen. Casey Murdock has served in the Legislature for 10 years, having been elected to the House of Representatives in 2014 and to the Senate in 2018. He told The Woodward News his experience matters because it takes a long time to get one’s “sea legs” in Oklahoma politics. Murdock, who ran unsuccessfully against McCortney to be Senate leader in February, said the Senate has become increasingly dysfunctional.

“At one time the Senate was the upper chamber — the respected side of the Legislature, but because of political brinkmanship, where some place politics over critical policy, we are not functioning,” Murdock said. “This needs to be fixed. I have been working for a year and a half to try and reunite the Senate and get us back on track. We are very close to getting that accomplished.”

Cody Anderson, of Ringwood, is a pastor and rancher. During the time he has served as lead pastor at Faith Center Fellowship, the church has grown to be a multi-campus congregation with locations in Meno and Cherokee. On his campaign website, Anderson says he will support the full spectrum of conservative ideals from protecting traditional Christian values like the right to life to supporting personal freedoms and liberties such as Second Amendment rights. He says he is a strong supporter of local public schools and will bring years of education experience to the Senate because he previously served on the Ringwood School Board.

As of June 10, Murdock had spent more than twice the amount that Anderson had raised. Murdock reported raising $136,045 and spending $99,748, leaving him a balance of $36,288. Anderson reported raising $47,660 and spending $34,203, leaving with $13,457 on hand as of June 10. With no Democratic or other candidate seeking the seat, Tuesday’s primary will decide the Senate District 27 seat. 

SD 29: Sen. Julie Daniels (R-Bartlesville) v. Wendi Stearman

Sen. Julie Daniels was first elected in 2016 and has been one of the more conservative Senate Republicans during her tenure. She emphasizes pro-life her commitment to “empower parents,” “protect our children” and “drain the swamp” on her website.

Challenger Wendi Stearman does not believe Daniels is conservative enough. A former House member representing HD 11 in the Bartlesville area, Stearman served just one two-year term before losing in the 2022 GOP primary to Rep. John Kane (R-Bartlesville). She called herself then the most conservative member of the House and gained notoriety for her anti-abortion stance. Stearman is challenging Daniels from the right and has attacked her for votes on legislation dealing with IDs for immigrants and on voter IDs.

SD 37: Sen. Cody Rogers (R-Tulsa) v. Aaron Reinhardt

The race for Senate District 37, which incumbent Sen. Cody Rogers initially was going to pass up, has intensified in the final days of the campaign.

Attorney General Gentner Drummond Drummond sent a letter Friday to Oklahoma Ethics Commission executive director Lee Anne Bruce Boone saying his office received complaints from residents in SD 37 concerning the lack of expenditures in Rogers’ campaign reports.

“According to the callers, they have received numerous mailers from Sen. Rogers” and they “do not understand the discrepancy of no expenditures listed on the report and receiving mailers that normally cost hundreds or thousands to design, print and mail out.”

Rogers’ campaign report filed June 10 shows he had raised $250,000 — entirely from a personal loan — and had spent nothing. The June 9 report of Rogers’ opponent, Aaron Reinhardt, showed he had raised $154,815 and had spent $125,578, leaving him with $29,237 on hand. Drummond also sent a letter Friday to Rogers stating he had filed an inquiry with the Ethics Commission.

“I am deeply concerned that you have failed to file any information whatsoever regarding your campaign expenditures,” Drummond wrote. Reinhardt posted both letters on his Facebook campaign page.

Josh Wagoner of Tomahawk Strategies represents Rogers, and he contacted NonDoc on Sunday about the race.

“I’ll let Cody speak for himself, but everything has been filed with the Ethics (Commission) per their own guidelines,” Wagoner said.

Rogers said bills for campaign services had not been received by the time his pre-primary report was filed and that he had “explained” the entire situation on his Facebook page.

Rogers, 36, announced in August that he would not seek reelection to SD 37, but in March he announced he had reconsidered and would seek a second term in the Senate. Since then, he has picked up the endorsements of Gov. Kevin Stitt and former Attorney General John O’Connor, whom Drummond defeated in the 2022 GOP primary election.

Reinhardt, 42 is a commercial insurance agent in Jenks and guidance counselor at Metro Christian Academy, a Leadership Tulsa graduate and an upcoming member of Leadership Jenks. He is also vice president of the Bixby Educational Endowment Foundation and has been endorsed by Insurance Commissioner Glen Mulready and former House Speaker Chris Benge (R-Tulsa). Reinhardt told the Tulsa World he is running for the Senate after being asked by local leaders and he decided that a “fresh voice” was needed at the State Capitol. The winner of Tuesday’s primary will face 43-year-old independent Andrew Nutter, of Tulsa, in November. 

SD 43: Sen. Jessica Garvin (R-Duncan) v. Kendal Sacchieri

In the Duncan area’s Senate District 43, the senators who ousted an incumbent four years ago is now facing a competitive challenge of her own.

Incumbent Sen. Jessica Garvin has emphasized in multiple Facebook posts that she is the “only” candidate with support from “local farmers and ranchers” and “education advocates.” She also said dark money organizations are supporting her opponent and are lying about her voting record on abortion.

Kendal Sacchieri appears to be challenging Garvin from the right. Originally from Illinois, Sacchieri is the current McClain County assessor. She and her family live in Blanchard. On Facebook, Sacchieri has attacked her opponent for legislation and votes that she says are not conservative enough.

Tuesday’s GOP primary winner will face the sole Democrat in the race, Sam Graefe.