OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — State Sen. Stephanie Bice won the Republican nomination on Tuesday for the 5th District congressional seat in Oklahoma City, setting up a showdown with first-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Kendra Horn for a seat Republicans desperately want to win back in November.
Bice, 46, defeated Oklahoma City businesswoman Terry Neese, 72, in the primary runoff to advance to the general election. Horn, 44, is the lone Democrat in the state’s congressional delegation, and Republicans have made winning back the seat a top priority.
Bice, who raised about $1.4 million, trailed Neese by more than 10 percentage points in a nine-candidate June primary, but managed to close the gap in the last two months.
But Horn also has proven to be an effective fundraiser, amassing more than $3.6 million, and she faced only token opposition in the June primary. While Bice and Neese spent much of the summer battling each other, Horn has run ads touting her ability to work with Republicans and occasionally break with party leadership.
Neese made her admiration for Trump the center of her campaign, sporting a red “Trump 2020” hat in her ads and vowing to “protect” the president.
Bice was the target of outside groups for voting on a package of tax increases to fund a teacher pay raise, while Neese, who is not Native American, faced criticism for claiming Cherokee heritage that helped her land a federal appointment. Neese also came under fire after the release of audiotapes in which she can be heard encouraging her employees to mislead clients.
“It was the tapes,” said Ron Deak, 58, explaining why he cast his ballot for Bice Tuesday at Life Church in the Oklahoma City suburb of Edmond. “She didn’t own up to it.”
Bice, who earned a reputation as a hardworking moderate in the Senate, spent much of her first term trying to overhaul the state’s antiquated liquor laws, which hadn’t been updated in decades.
“I have a couple of friends I trust, who don’t know each other, and they both said they can trust her,” said Jerad Lovett, 39, of Edmond, who voted for Bice on Tuesday. “They both said she’s a hard worker.”
Republicans have a slight edge in voter registration in the district, but an infusion of younger people in recent years could give Horn a boost in November.
Horn pulled one of the biggest congressional upsets in the country in 2018 when she toppled a Republican incumbent in a district President Trump won by 14 points in 2016. The district had been in Republican hands for four decades.