• OK-01: If you were following along with Tuesday night’s election results, one thing you saw was the absolutely shocking, out-of-nowhere upset victory by Jim Bridenstine over Rep. John Sullivan in the OK-01 Republican primary. Bridenstine beat Sullivan 54-46 in a race that was on almost no one’s radar, and in this dark red district, he’ll be the heavy favorite in November.
So just who is Jim Bridenstine, anyway? We first flagged his candidacy a couple of weeks ago, when the American Academy of Ophthalmology placed a $ 39K radio ad buy in support of incumbent Sullivan. That was the first sign that something may have been brewing in this little-noticed primary, and it sure does appear that Bridenstine utterly blindsided Sullivan. Then again, those strange medical professional PACs often spend money in weird, uncompetitive races (see the dentists in ID-02, for instance), so there wasn’t much reason to read too much into this at the time.
Bridenstine, a Naval Reserve officer, combat pilot, and former executive director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum, describes himself as a “Republican Patriot for U.S. Congress” on his own website. On the campaign trail, he criticized Sullivan for being something of a “do-nothing” congressman with a history of missed votes. (Recall that Sullivan spent some time in rehab to treat his alcohol addiction.) On top of that, Bridenstine also piled on the usual tea party themes of reigning in government spending—something that now seems to be a compulsory exercise to win any Republican primary.
One thing we did miss was a Bridenstine internal poll from May which showed the race tied in the low thirties; evidently, Sullivan missed that, too. Bridenstine also went on the air with a number of different ads, as did Sullivan. Bridenstine seemed to eschew the opportunity to put his television spots in front of a national audience (say, via Politico’s Morning Score), which may have been a wise move that allowed him to sneak up on the incumbent.
In the end, Bridenstine raised almost $ 250K to Sullivan’s $ 1 million. Sullivan was also boosted by a number of PAC independent expenditures—notably from the aforementioned Ophthalmologists, but also the American Society of Anesthesiologists. In total, the anesthesiologists spent $ 44K and the ophthalmologists $ 57K on mailers and radio ads in a last-minute attempt to shore up Sullivan… but it was too little, too late. And Sullivan seemed to know it, too, offering this remarkable quote just days before the primary:
“I never had a race like this in all my life,” Sullivan told The Associated Press from Washington, as he prepared to jump on a flight back to Oklahoma for a last-minute campaign push ahead of Tuesday’s primary to decide who will be the Republican nominee representing Oklahoma’s 1st congressional district. “The only mistake I made was I ignored it for too long.”
P.S. Major props to Xenocrypt in the comments for exposing what was actually an under-the-radar proxy fight between ophthalmologists and optometrists in this race. It turns out that Sullivan co-sponsored a bill in 2011 (the “Healthcare Truth and Transparency Act”) that rankled the interests of optometrists (who do not have medical degrees), while favoring ophthalmologists (who are M.D.s). Sullivan’s primary race became something of an inter-professional turf war, with some 66 optometrists cutting checks to Bridenstine’s campaign, totaling $ 30K, with an additional $ 5K thrown in by the American Optometric Association itself. And as we outlined above, the American Academy of Ophthalmologists responded with mid-five figures in spending on Sullivan’s behalf. Click the link for more details. (David Nir & James L)
Source: Daily Kos