- Associated Press - Friday, June 20, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Three Oklahoma Republican congressmen facing challenges from within their party in Tuesday’s primary are working to avoid an upset like the June 10 surprise in the Virginia primary that saw a House Republican leader lose to a virtually unknown challenger.

Republican Reps. Tom Cole in the Fourth District; Frank Lucas in the Third District; and Markwayne Mullin in the Second District each face opponents in an Oklahoma primary just two weeks after GOP Rep. Eric Cantor lost in the Virginia primary to economics professor Dave Brat.

That result startled Washington insiders and gave hope to upstarts across the country. Darrel Robertson, who is challenging first-term Oklahoma Congressman Mullin, is using the same political consultant as Brat, Concentric Direct. The firm boasts on its website of being able to go into any community and “encourage citizen action from the ground up.”

“They were the only consulting group I talked to who said you could run this race for about $150,000,” said Robertson, a former professional fisherman making his first run for political office.

While an upset is possible in Oklahoma, it is not likely, according to University of Oklahoma political scientist Keith Gaddie.

“Our environment here makes it tougher, and if a move was being made (by a challenger) we’d be picking up on it already, and we haven’t,” he said.

Oklahoma has a closed primary system allowing only registered Republicans and Democrats to vote in the respective primaries. Virginia had an open primary, allowing Democrats and independents to vote in the Republican party, which some analysts believe contributed to Cantor’s defeat.

But the Oklahoma incumbents aren’t taking anything for granted. They are emphasizing their local roots and constituent service.

In addition to Robertson facing Mullin, Cole faces Anna Flatt, and Lucas faces Robert Hubbard and Timothy Ray Murray. Rep. Jim Bridenstine in the First District is unopposed in both the primary and the general election while the Fifth District seat is open as incumbent Rep. James Lankford runs for the U.S. Senate.

“I think the real issue in Virginia is that Mr. Cantor became very consumed by being the No. 2 man in the United States House and became more interested in national politics,” instead of his constituents, said Lucas, who is seeking an 11th term. The winner will face Democrat Frankie Robbins in December.

“I’m very focused on serving my district,” Lucas said.

Hubbard criticized Lucas, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, for the nearly $100 billion Farm Bill that Hubbard said is too costly.

“I’m just for limited government,” Hubbard said.

A third GOP candidate in the Lucas primary, Timothy Ray Murray, was the Democratic nominee for the seat two years ago. He did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Murray’s website lists among his goals balancing the federal budget, creating jobs and a commitment to public and higher education.

Cole, seeking a seventh term, said he sees no similarities between Cantor’s loss and his race in Oklahoma.

“I hope I’ve done the kind of job that merits being re-elected. I think I’ve represented the views and values of the people in the district,” said Cole, who is a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

Flatt, his primary opponent, said she thinks the tide is turning against Cole.

“We’re hearing more and more people are unhappy, that (winning) might be a possibility,” Flatt said, adding that it would still be a miracle if she pulled off an upset.

The winner faces either Democrat Tae Si or Bert Smith and Independent Dennis Johnson in November.

Mullin, seeking a second term, said he believes Cantor lost touch with his constituents.

“He spent a lot of time out of his district. You can become disconnected from your district and that’s why we’re back in our district,” Mullin said.

If Mulllin avoids an upset from Robertson, he will face either Earl Everett or Joshua Harris-Till competing for the Democratic nomination, and Independent Jon Douthitt, on the November ballot.

State Democratic Party Chairman Wallace Collins said his party’s nominees face difficult races, and any anti-incumbent sentiment could help.

“When you look at what happened in Virginia, anything can happen,” Collins said.

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