With all the press focused on the fates of veteran lawmakers Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) in primaries on Tuesday, just about all of the political reporters missed the biggest upset of all: the defeat of Republican Rep. John Sullivan for renomination in Oklahoma‚??s Tulsa-based 1st District.
Six-termer Sullivan lost to retired U.S. Navy officer and first-time candidate Jim Bridenstine. Sullivan, a reliable conservative with a lifetime ACU rating of 96%,¬†had rarely been challenged since winning his first term in a special election back in 2001 and held a 3-to-1 spending advantage over the little-known Bridenstine. But the insurgent candidate not only won, but did so with 54 percent of the vote.
‚??John Sullivan faced the perfect storm,‚?Ě former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating told Human Events, ‚??He was conservative but to a lot of folks who are getting active in the Republican Party in Tulsa, he wasn‚??t conservative enough. And these people‚??yes, many of them affiliated with the Tea Party movement‚??took their anger out on their congressman over George W. Bush running up the debt just as Obama did, on the debt increasing, and on just everything that bothered them about politics.‚?Ě
Keating knows of what he speaks. Not only was he the near-successful Republican nominee for Congress back in 1984, but in 2001, his wife Cathy was the runner-up to then-State Rep. Sullivan in the contest to succeed Rep. Steve Largent, who ran for governor that year.
Bridenstine himself, who vowed to serve only three terms, agreed with this assessment. ‚??I think this is an anti-incumbency kind of environment throughout the country and I was the beneficiary of that.‚?Ě
There were other problems as well. Veteran Oklahoma pollster Bill Shapard said Sullivan paid too much attention to the upstart challenger by acknowledging him and attacking him. In Shapard‚??s words, ‚??Suliivan lost because he became his own opponent.‚?Ě
Others noted that after a dozen years in Congress, Sullivan still had a relatively low profile. Tulsans have been used to formidable leaders as their congressmen: Democrat Jim Jones (1972-86), who rose to become chairman of the House Budget Committee, and Republicans Jim Inhofe (1986-94), now a U.S. senator, and onetime NFL star Largent.
Never mentioned publicly but certainly whispered about in ‚??over the fence gossip‚?Ě was Sullivan‚??s bout with alcoholism back in ‚??09. The congressman admitted he had an addiction and sought treatment at the world-famous Betty Ford Center. In the process, he missed several votes in Congress. Alcoholism never came up in 2010 when he faced near-invisible opposition in the primary and general election, but, Tulsa sources told Human Events, it was discussed and talked about in 2012 when Sullivan faced what turned out to be serious opposition.
Cobbled together in a year in which spending a lot of time in Washington is not turning out to be a selling point, Sullivan went down‚??and none of us were watching.