Voters pit Hern, Gilpin in November Congressional election

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Kevin Hern, left, and Tim Gilpin, right.

The race for Oklahoma’s only open Congressional seat was narrowed further Tuesday, as voters chose Republican Kevin Hern and Democrat Tim Gilpin to face off in the November general election.

Republican voters gave Hern a 10-point margin of victory over his opponent Tim Harris, 55 percent to 45 percent, in Tuesday’s runoff election. Democrat and independent voters gave Gilpin a nearly 20-point victory over his opponent Amanda Douglas, 59 percent to 41 percent.  

The two candidates will now face off to fill the open Congressional District 1 seat, which was vacated by former Congressman Jim Bridenstine when he was appointed by President Donald Trump to head NASA.

Congressional District 1 encompasses most of Tulsa, Washington and Wagoner counties. The district has been solidly Republican for the past several decades — the last time a Democrat was elected to the seat was in 1984.

Hern, a Tulsa resident who made his fortune through McDonald’s franchises and other business ventures, came in second in the primary election behind Harris, despite spending about twice as much as all of his opponents combined, mostly through the use of $1.5 million of his own money and loans from Firstar Bank. Hern was also opposed by and outside group, The Club For Growth, which took out ads against him during the pre-runoff primary race.

Hern is estimated to have the highest net worth of any Congressional candidate in the state, and a  portion of his early donations came from out of state McDonald’s franchisees. Hern also vastly outspent Harris during the runoff race, with Hern spending about $340,000 to Harris’s $70,000, according to campaign filings a week before the election.

The race between Harris, who served as Tulsa County District Attorney for 16 years, and Hern turned negative shortly after the primary election, as Hern accused Harris in advertisements of inadequately supporting President Donald Trump and stating that Harris would work to keep Special Counsel Robert S. Muller’s investigation of the president going.

In his victory speech Tuesday night, Hern called the race “exhausting,” and the runoff election “passionate.” Hern told supporters that it was important to uphold the district’s conservative values , to continue on the path set out by Breidenstein and to support President Donald Trump’s agenda.

“We’ve got to make sure what is coming up in the next 70 days,” Hern said. “In 70 days we have a general election against a Democrat and it is our job in this room and across this district to uphold the values, the conservative values, that we know need to be taken care of here.”

Gilpin, a Tulsa attorney who has served on the Oklahoma State Board of Education and as an assistant state attorney general, came in first during the June 26 Democratic primary, but only by two percentage points ahead of runoff opponent Amanda Douglas.

Gilpin’s campaign far outraised and outspent Douglas’s both before and after the primary, with Gilpin raising $47,570 to Douglas’s $3,281 as of last week.

Shortly after The Frontier published a story showing each of the state’s congressional candidates’ net worth, debts owed and income reported to the U.S. House of Representatives, Gilpin and Douglas both made statements pointing to the disclosures to show how each understood and live through the struggles faced by working families

In his victory speech, Gilpin thanked Douglas and her supporters and called for unity to “stand together for the greater good” to help him “fight for a better future for Oklahoma and a better America.”

Gilpin offered a sharp contrast to Hern’s support of President Donald Trump, saying “we can’t continue to go down the path we started down in 2016,” in reference to Trump’s election.

“Right now, we are living in a time of corruption and cruelty in Washington,” Gilpin said. “It’s time to be better again. So starting tomorrow, lets be better again by working on the mess our country is in, because I’m not running to join the circus in Washington. I’m running to offer real solutions to real problems to the people of the First District.”

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Clifton Adcock

Senior Staff Writer

A veteran investigative reporter who has covered eastern Oklahoma for more than 15 years, Clifton joined The Frontier in April 2017. A native of southeastern Oklahoma, he has covered numerous issues from criminal justice to politics for publications including the Tulsa World, the Oklahoma Gazette, and Oklahoma Watch. Clifton holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma. Clifton can be reached at clifton@readfrontier.com. Follow him on Twitter @cliftonhowze
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