The August GOP runoff for U.S. Senate between U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin and former Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon will pit two Trump loyalists against each other. 

The winner will compete against Democrat Kendra Horn in the November general election and will likely claim retiring U.S. Sen. James Inhofe’s seat. The last Democrat to represent Oklahoma in the U.S. Senate was David Boren, who left office in 1994. 

With 43% of the vote in the primary and sizable fundraising advantage, Mullin is favored to win the Aug. 23 runoff. Mullin won 75 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties. In contrast, Shannon received 17% of the vote, and only won Comanche County, where his district was located when he served in the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 2007 to 2015. 

But Shannon still has a fighting chance, said Pat McFerron, an Oklahoma political strategist and pollster. 

“Shannon is going to show off why he’s the better of the two,” McFerron said. 

In an interview, Shannon described himself as “anti-establishment” and the “American first” candidate. He also said he has signed a pledge to support legislation to implement term limits for members of  Congress, something he believes sets himself apart from Mullin. 

To donate to The Frontier and help support our efforts to grow investigative journalism in Oklahoma, click here.

“The reason I’m running is because I keep my word,” Shannon said. “When I’m the Senator in the United States Senate from Oklahoma, I’ll keep my word on term limits, I believe term limits are important.” 

When Mullin first ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012, he pledged to voters he would only stay in office for three terms, but ended up serving five terms before announcing his run for U.S. Senate.

When The Frontier asked about breaking his pledge back in March, Mullin said that he changed his position as his “life experiences change,” and that he wanted to “be in the best position to serve the great state of Oklahoma.”

Although Mullin has strong name recognition, McFerron said that could put him at a disadvantage. Mullin’s polling numbers have stayed steady, but he also hasn’t gained much popularity, he said. 

“You could argue that 55% of the people didn’t vote for him even though he’s better known,” he said. “So he’s got a little bit of a challenge there.” 

Both Shannon and Mullin have committed to a debate hosted by News 9 on Aug. 2 and a number of forums before the runoff election. Mullin missed the first U.S. Senate debate before the primary hosted by News 9 due to his schedule in Congress, he said.

“We would love to have an opportunity to debate on real issues and on who we are because there are drastic differences between my opponent and myself,” Mullin said. “(Including) our resumes, what we’ve done for the state and what our life experiences are.”

Shannon also said he’s looking forward to debating Mullin for the first time.

“I’m going to work to earn the vote of Oklahomans,” he said. “I’ll show up to any debate and to any form to earn their vote because I think that’s what you do. As an elected official I’ll work for the people of Oklahoma; they will not be working for me.”

Despite spending nearly a decade in Washington D.C., Mullin said in an interview that he believes Shannon has more of a political background than he does.

“If you look at my opponent, it’s obvious … he’s served the state of Oklahoma great,” Mullin said. “But, your career path is not supposed to be in politics. … If your identity is politics, because that’s your life, then there are also going to be decisions you’re going to make to make sure you stay in that position.”

Mullin, who owns a plumbing company, said that since he is a “citizen legislator” he will “make those (tough) votes and if it costs us our election I get to come home to and that’s that’s perfectly good with me.”

But, Mullin has actually spent ten years in the U.S. House, compared to Shannon who spent eight years in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. 

“I’ve worked in the private sector, I’m the CEO of a bank, my entire life story is an American story,” Shannon said. “ I was 26 when I was elected to the legislature. I was 33 when my colleagues elected me to be speaker. I’ve been an investment banker, I’ve been a business owner. And today, I’m the CEO of a community bank that only happens in the United States of America.”

Mullin is already far ahead on Shannon in fundraising. He raised $2 million and loaned himself $1 million more before the primary. Mullin also had help from wealthy donors such as the Hilliary family, owners of Hilliary Communications and billionaire Harold Hamm. U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-CA., also hosted a fundraiser for Mullin in Oklahoma City.

While Mullin led the primary by a wide margin, some recent history has shown that doesn’t necessarily translate to a general election win.

  • In 2020, Terry Neese got more votes than Stephanie Bice in the 5th Congressional District GOP primary, but Bice won the runoff.
  • In 2018, Mick Cornett got more votes than Kevin Stitt in the gubernatorial GOP primary, but Stitt won the runoff.
  • In 2018, Tim Harris got more votes than Kevin Hern in the 1st Congressional District GOP primary, but Hern won the runoff.
  • In 2018, Dana Murphy got more votes than Matt Pinnell in the Lt. Governor GOP primary, but Pinnell won the runoff.

Over the next two months, the fight could get ugly with negative campaign ads and injections of outside money from well-funded political action committees on both sides, McFerron said.

“These are two candidates that both have extensive legislative records that folks can find something to fault with,” McFerron said.