The Republican campaign to unseat deep-red Oklahoma’s lone Democrat in Congress is officially underway after a GOP state lawmaker Wednesday jumped into the fray for a seat both parties expect to work fiercely to win in 2020.
State Sen. Stephanie Bice said she planned to take back the seat Democrat Kendra Horn won in one of the midterm elections’ biggest upsets . Horn beat two-term Republican Steve Russell for Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District, which President Donald Trump won in 2016 and that the GOP had controlled for four decades. At least two lesser known Republicans also are vying for the seat next year, with more challengers expected in the party primary.
Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats in the Oklahoma City-based district that also includes rural Pottawatomie and Seminole counties, and it is one of 55 seats held by “vulnerable Democrats” that the National Republican Congressional Committee is targeting in its effort to retake the House. The GOP’s strategy is to link Democrats like Horn to her party’s left wing.
“Kendra Horn was able to fly under the radar posing as a moderate in 2018, but that won’t be the case this time,” said NRCC spokesman Bob Salera.
Horn rode a blue wave in 2018 that saw a record number of women elected to Congress. She had previously headed two nonprofits that recruit and train female candidates for office.
In her own campaign against Russell, a retired Army officer, Horn avoided talk of Trump — unlike some fellow Democrats in her freshman class in Washington — and the politically divisive issues of abortion and immigration. Instead she focused on education and health care, criticizing Russell for voting against a requirement for insurance to cover people with pre-existing conditions.
“She recognizes that she represents a district that is moderate — it’s not necessarily progressive or conservative,” said Oklahoma Democratic Party chair Anna Langthorn. “It’s her aim to reflect those values.”
Bice’s legislative work has included helping change state laws to allow alcohol sales on Sundays and for inviting a Hindu leader to deliver a prayer after the Legislature faced criticism for its lack of religious diversity.
In a prepared statement that did not mention Horn by name, Bice said the House Majority Democrats have “embraced socialist policies and big government solutions” and that she would focus on growing the economy if elected.
Horn has credited enthusiastic women and young people for her victory. She took in almost $378,000 from January through March, according to campaign finance records.
Ward Curtin, Horn’s campaign spokesman, said he expects the Republican primary to be “fueled by special interests and right-wing activists.”
“Congresswoman Horn will continue to focus on commonsense solutions to improve education, protect access to affordable health care, and changing the way Washington works for Oklahomans,” Curtin said.