Gizzi on Politics June 8, 2009

Back So Sooner?

For the second time in four years, Republicans in Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District will have a competitive primary on their hands. With GOP Rep. Mary Fallin forgoing re-election to run for governor, the 2010 primary race to replace her is just beginning to take shape. Nonetheless, what is fairly certain is that the winner of the GOP primary will be headed to Congress six months later. This Oklahoma City-based district gave 59% of its vote to John McCain in 2008 and has been represented by a Republican in Congress since 1974.

The 2006 primary to replace GOP Rep. (1992-2006) Ernest Istook (who, like Fallin, was vacating the seat to run for governor) turned out to be what University of Oklahoma Political Science Prof. Keith Gaddie called a “battle of the heavyweights.” Then-Lt. Gov. Fallin topped a five-candidate field of well-known Republicans and won the run-off over Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett.

Two familiar faces from the ’06 primary are running again. Backed by the Club for Growth, former State Rep. Kevin Calvey, the fourth-place finisher in ‘06, is confident that he can gather the support of many of the district’s movement conservatives who, in 2006, coalesced around third-place finisher Denise Bode (now president of the Washington, D.C.-based American Wind Energy Association). Also in the race is the ’06 fifth-place finisher, State Rep. Fred Morgan.

Calvey has been outspoken in his opposition to same-sex marriage, abortion and increased spending, while pushing lower taxes. Shortly after losing his ’06 bid for Congress, Calvey was deployed to Iraq as part of the troop surge, earning a Bronze Star for his service. This experience, says the second-time candidate, changed him fundamentally. In charge of presenting evidence against Iraqi insurgents and al Qaeda terrorists stationed in Iraq, Calvey would go to Iraqi courthouses and stand face-to-face with captured terrorists.

“I was literally standing two feet from people who were cutting off heads of Americans, people who would never want to stop killing Americans until we became a Sharia state,” he told HUMAN EVENTS correspondent Chris Donnelly. “It’s hard for this not to be a life-changing experience.”

Calvey’s leading opponent so far appears to be State Rep. Mike Thompson. Although not yet officially announced, Thompson recently hired veteran operative Josh Kivett, who managed Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe’s re-election races in 2002 and ’08. A onetime staffer for stalwart conservative Istook, the 31-year-old Thompson is chairman of the state House Energy and Utility Regulation Committee. In an interview with HE’s Donnelly, Thompson emphasized his support for a balanced budget amendment, legislation permitting increased energy exploration, and opposition to burdensome regulations that hurt small business. “As a former small business owner myself, I know the challenges that they face,” said Thompson, who was in real estate.

What Will Mick Do?

The major question in the race is what will ’08 runner-up Mick Cornett do? Sources familiar with Sooner State politics all agree that were the Oklahoma City mayor to give Congress another shot, he would be the odds-on favorite to win. In a recent interview, Cornett made clear that he is in no rush to make a decision. As he put it, “In October, I will announce whether or not I will run for re-election [as mayor]. If I decide not to do that, I may look at [running for] governor, maybe lieutenant governor, maybe Congress,” adding that those are the three offices that “make the most sense.” Cornett also did not rule out deciding to leave politics altogether.

Cornett did say, however, that were he to seek one of these higher offices, he would not run for another term as Oklahoma City’s chief executive in March 2010. During his run in 2006, Cornett was heavily criticized by some Republicans for running for re-election in March of that year and then, almost immediately after that race, announcing he was running for Congress in the July primary.

Cornett has received high marks as mayor for his work in helping to revitalize Oklahoma City’s economy, particularly the renovation of the Ford Center, which led the National Basketball Association to move the Seattle-based Supersonics to the Sooner State. In his last re-election race, he won by the largest margin in the city history.

For now, Oklahomans are just going to have to watch the race in the 5th District unfold as one of their states most interesting political sagas.