Rex Berry talks to a constituent in 2015 as he prepared to run for Tulsa County sheriff. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

If Oklahoma Democrats want to flip the state’s 1st congressional district for the first time in more than two decades, it could come with a hefty price tag.

Current 1st District Congressman Jim Bridenstine has been appointed by President Donald Trump to head NASA, and a quick confirmation of his new position would result in Oklahoma holding a special election to fill his seat.

And special elections cost money, $200,000 per election, estimates Oklahoma Election Board spokesman Bryan Dean.

That’s where it gets interesting. Though Bridenstine — who has already stated an intention not to seek re-election — is technically still the district’s representative, at least five Republicans have begun to campaign and raise money.

Those five include Kevin Hern, a local businessman; Tim Harris, Tulsa County’s former district attorney; Andy Coleman, a local nonprofit executive; Nathan Dahm, a state senator from Broken Arrow; and Danny Stockstill, a local pastor.

But a sixth person has recently thrown his hat into the ring: Former law enforcement officer Rex Berry is the first Democrat to publicly state his intention to run for Bridenstine’s seat.

The filing fee is $750, but in theory a formal attempt by Berry to replace Bridenstine could cost the state $200,000.

Here’s how it breaks down. If the eventual candidates for House District 1 come only from one party — in this case the Republican party — the state would be on the hook for $200,000 for the primary election.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“I feel like the message is more important than the practicality.” Rex Berry [/perfectpullquote]

With five Republicans already vying for the nomination, it’s somewhat unlikely any one candidate would reach the 50 percent needed to win outright, setting the stage for a runoff election at a cost of an additional $200,000.

But if a second party wades into the pool, in this case Berry and the Democrats (no independent candidate is known to be running for House District 1) that would ensure a general election. That would add an additional $200,000 to the tab.

But Berry, who was the Democratic nominee twice to replace departed former Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz (Berry lost to current Sheriff Vic Regalado both times) is undeterred, even though a victory here seems unlikely: No Democrat has controlled House District 1 since the mid-1980s when James R. Jones was elected in 1985.

Before that, the last Democratic congressman from that district was Dixie Gilmer, elected in 1948.

“I feel like the message is more important than the practicality,” Berry said.

And sometimes the Hail Mary pass is caught, so perhaps it’s not a hopeless endeavor. Earlier this week, Norman school teacher Jacob Rosecrants, a Democrat, was elected to the state House of Representatives.

Rosecrants isn’t alone. In July, state Democrats flipped two historically Republican House and Senate seats.

“I think it’s winnable,” Berry said of the 1st District race. “I’m just going to have to mobilize a lot of people, both moderates and liberals who are outraged and are more inclined to vote.”

[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“We need a message that’s more than just ‘the other guys are horrible at the moment.'” Kimberly Fobbs, chairwoman of the Tulsa County Democratic Party[/perfectpullquote]

Kimberly Fobbs, chairwoman of the Tulsa County Democratic Party, said her hope was to find a message that goes beyond “the other guys are horrible.” In July, Democrats Karen Gaddis and Michael Brooks-Jiminez won state seats in special elections that arose because of controversy, as Republicans Ralph Shortey and Dan Kirby resigned because of separate sexual misconduct allegations.

“It concerns me that we’re winning these special elections on moral issues, because the pendulum swings both ways,” Fobbs said. “We need a message that’s more than just ‘the other guys are horrible at the moment.’”

Of course, the cost speculation could be for nought anyway. The special election would only take place if Bridenstine is confirmed for the NASA job before Jan 1. A confirmation after that date (or no confirmation at all) would push the election for his seat to the regular 2018 election cycle. And it’s likely that, if not Berry, another Democrat (or independent) would run anyway.

And Dean said costs are not a focus of the state Election Board, anyway.

“We don’t want to discourage anyone from running just to save money,” he said. “That’s not what we’re about. There are a lot of benefits to having parties square off against each other — it improves turnout, there’s more voter engagement … a lot of people want to see different ideas.”

As for the Republican candidates, the group continues to campaign and raise money. Hern has a sizeable fundraising lead, having reported raising more than $750,000 already, almost 10 times that of his nearest competitors. Harris and Coleman have each reported raising about $75,000.

Recent 1st Congressional District Representatives
Page Belcher – 1953-1973
James R. Jones – 1973-1987
Jim Inhofe – 1987-1994
Steve Largent – 1994-2002
John Sullivan – 2002-2013
Jim Bridenstine – 2013-present