State Sen. Stephanie Bice and businesswoman Terry Neese have advanced to an August runoff in the fifth congressional district Republican primary, setting up a two-month race that’s likely to include both candidates doubling down on their support of President Donald Trump.
The nine-candidate field was whittled down to Bice and Neese after Tuesday’s election. Both were the top vote getters but neither captured the more than 50 percent required to win outright.
The runoff winner will take on Rep. Kendra Horn, the Oklahoma City Democrat who achieved one of the 2018 midterm’s biggest upsets but has been targeted by some as the party’s most vulnerable incumbent.
Many political observers expected Bice to at least make the runoff, given she was the only candidate to currently hold elected office and profiled as a strong candidate for a purplish district that still leans Republican in voter registration count.
The surprise may have been that Bice finished second to Neese, a position Bice embraced as a good spot headed into a runoff.
“Historically, the second plane finisher in a primary ends up winning the runoff,” Bice said Tuesday night.
After Bice, Neese was the second Republican to announce her bid, launching her campaign more than a year ago. Running as an experienced entrepreneur who would protect the private sector, Neese finished ahead of Bice by around 10 percentage points.
Both Bice and Neese raised around $1 million, although half of Neese’s funding came from personal loans to her campaign.
The rest of the field finished well behind, led by businessman David Hill and former state superintendent Janet Barresi.
Bice was the target of attack ads in the final weeks of the primary, including one that attempted to link her to convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein. Bice said she is prepared to defend herself if another round of attacks come in the runoff, and she also plans to highlight more of her business experience.
Bice said she is proud of her record in the state Senate, but has been criticized for a vote to increase taxes in 2018.
“People ask me about the tax increase and when I tell them that was for the teacher pay raise they say, ‘Oh, okay,'” Bice said.
Bice and Neese have run on a platform of helping to regain Republican control of the U.S. House that impeached the president earlier this year.
Horn found success in 2018 in a midterm election that saw Democrats win the House largely through gains made in suburban districts where Trump’s popularity had deteriorated.
Horn has positioned herself as a moderate who has broken with her party on some votes, but she voted in favor of impeaching Trump.
Whether her Republican opponent decides to compete for that moderate ground remains to be seen as the Republican primary has so far been a contest over who supports Trump the most.
The Republican runoff electorate typically skews even more conservative, meaning Bice and Neese will likely continue to showcase their support for a president who appears to be trailing former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, in many presidential polls.
Neese told voters at a debate last month that the president needed support, especially during a time of nationwide protests.
“It’s an extreme disappointment when we see supposed leaders like (Speaker of the House) Nancy Pelosi and (U.S. Sen.) Mitt Romney locking arms and protesting with domestic terrorists in opposition to our law enforcement,” Neese said.
“It makes me sick.”