- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 26, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Three of the Republican candidates vying for Oklahoma’s open 5th Congressional District seat in Oklahoma City touted their conservative credentials on Wednesday and fielded questions from members of a grassroots conservative group.

Members of the Oklahoma Conservative Political Action Committee voted to endorse Army combat veteran and former Republican state Sen. Steve Russell of Oklahoma City after he participated in a forum with former state Rep. Shane Jett and Harvey Sparks, a former staffer of U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine.

The three are among six Republicans and four Democrats seeking the seat being vacated by two-term Republican U.S. Rep. James Lankford, who is stepping down to run for the U.S. Senate.

“It is humbling to think people would trust you with being their voice,” Russell said. “Any of us who have served in public office before realize what an incredible responsibility that is.”

Republicans state Sen. Clark Jolley of Edmond and Corporation Commissioner Patrice Douglas and state Rep. Mike Turner, both of Oklahoma City, did not participate in the town hall-style forum.

The Oklahoma City-based OCPAC, which has about 170 dues-paying members, reported having about $20,000 available to spend on statewide and Oklahoma legislative races, but founder Charlie Meadows said it only issues endorsements, and does not contribute, in federal races.

Russell told the crowd of about 100 at the Olivet Baptist Church in central Oklahoma City that any vote he cast in Congress would be viewed through two filters: the U.S. Constitution and “my Judeo-Christian ethic that is formed by my biblical view of the world, which is based upon my belief in Jesus Christ.”

All three candidates voiced concern over the country’s increasing national debt and the growing size and scope of the federal government, including a perceived overreach into state’s rights. When asked if they were elected would they be willing to support current Republican U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, none of the three said they would.

“I do not like what I’ve seen from Boehner,” said Jett, who served three terms in the Oklahoma House from 2004 to 2010.

Sparks, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, said he moved his family to the Washington, D.C., area after Bridenstine, a tea party favorite, knocked off a five-term incumbent congressman in Tulsa in 2012. Like Bridenstine, Sparks vowed to serve no more than three terms if elected.

“I always want to be focused on the people I represent, not furthering my political career,” Sparks said.

The 5th Congressional District, which has been held by Republicans since the 1970s, includes nearly all of Oklahoma County, the state’s largest, along with Seminole and Pottawatomie counties to the east. Before Lankford, the seat was held for two terms by Gov. Mary Fallin.

Democrats running for the seat include state Sen. Al McAffrey of Oklahoma City, retired University of Central Oklahoma professor Tom Guild who ran unsuccessfully for the seat in 2010 and 2012, retired federal contractor Keith Davenport and former state employee Marilyn Rainwater.

The three-day candidate filing period begins April 9, and the primary election will be June 24. A primary election runoff, if necessary, would be Aug. 26.


Sean Murphy can be reached at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy

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