Westville plumbing company owner Markwayne Mullin defeated longtime state and federal prosecutor Rob Wallace on Tuesday, giving Republicans the open U.S. House seat in eastern Oklahoma.
Mullin, 35, touted his experience in the private sector building up his company, Mullin Plumbing, from a struggling six-worker operation to a statewide business with more than 100 employees. The Republican painted himself as a citizen-legislator and vowed to serve no more than six years in office if elected.
He also railed against federal spending and the growing national debt, and was able to deflect criticism that his own company enjoyed more than $370,000 in contracts paid for with federal stimulus funds, despite his opposition to President Barack Obama’s stimulus plan. Mullin said he was unaware the projects awarded through the Cherokee Nation were paid for with federal stimulus money.
Kenneth Crabtree, 52, a property manager in Muskogee, said he voted for Mullin. Crabtree said he likes Mullin because he’s a small businessman and because of “the Christian values that he has.”
Wallace, a Democrat from Fort Gibson, had been endorsed by some of the party’s biggest names, including former Oklahoma Govs. Brad Henry and David Boren. Little-funded independent Michael Fulks of Heavener also was on the ballot in the race to represent the 2nd Congressional District.
Wallace faced an uphill battle with Obama at the top of the ticket in a district that has grown increasingly conservative. Although Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 2-to-1 in the district, Obama barely topped 42 percent among Democratic voters in the district in the March presidential primary over four little-known candidates, and he failed to win a single county in the district — or in the state — in the 2008 general election.
Wallace tried to portray himself as an anti-abortion, pro-gun conservative Democrat who fit the conservative nature of the district, which stretches across 26 eastern Oklahoma counties from the foothills of the Ozark Mountains in the northeast to the Red River border with Texas in the south.
Mullin will replace outgoing Democratic U.S. Rep. Dan Boren, who announced last year that he wouldn’t seek a fifth term in office.
With victories by incumbent Reps. Tom Cole, James Lankford and Frank Lucas, the GOP now controls all of Oklahoma’s Washington delegation, all statewide offices and both chambers of the state Legislature.
“When we were the reddest state in the country four years ago, it certainly helped a lot of our down-ballot races as well,” said Oklahoma Republican Party Chairman Matt Pinnell, referring to 2008 when Republican nominee John McCain won every county in the state and captured 66 percent of the vote over Obama.
Romney’s win in the state’s general election was no surprise since a Democratic presidential candidate hasn’t won in Oklahoma since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Obama also performed poorly in the state’s presidential primary this past March and received just 57 percent of the vote among Democrats in Oklahoma over four little-known candidates.
“Any Republican candidate that’s running against Obama I like,” said Roy Moore, a Muskogee stock broker who voted for the GOP nominee.
Republicans targeted the 2nd District seat as soon as Boren said last year that he wouldn’t seek another term. Boren had seen his numbers drop in recent elections; the 26-county district that stretches from Kansas to Texas is traditionally Democratic, but has grown increasingly conservative.
At the state level, Republicans are expected to maintain or build upon their majorities in the House and Senate. The GOP currently enjoys a 32-16 advantage in the state Senate, and already has added two seats by virtue of Democrats failing to field candidates in two districts where Democratic incumbents are stepping down. Republicans also are competing for three open seats previously held by Democrats, while defending just two Republican-held open seats.
In the House, where Republicans enjoy a 67-31 advantage with three seats vacant, there are 34 seats up for grabs in Tuesday’s election. Sixteen Republican incumbents are facing challenges, along with seven Democrats. Eleven seats are open.
Oklahoma Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax said early turnout has been heavy statewide and said voter turnout was “on track” to be the largest since the 2008 presidential election, when about 67 percent of the state’s 2.1 million registered voters went to the polls.