Close congressional race feeds off negative energy

Jessie Christopher Smith, Reporter

WASHINGTON — The financial windfall for Oklahoma City television stations is about to end. 

For many viewers it can’t come soon enough. Perhaps Democratic incumbent Kendra Horn and her challenger State Sen. Stephanie Bice feel the same way, with both making appeals to the state’s energy industry. 

Whatever happens, all the noise will stop on Tuesday when voters in the state’s Fifth Congressional District go to the polls.

Up to the end however, Bice was unrelenting in her attacks over Horn’s stance regarding the state’s oil and gas industry, saying in one commercial:  “We can’t rebuild our economy by attacking the industry so many Oklahoma families depend on, but that’s exactly what Kendra Horn does.”

Horn, however, was just as aggressive, saying Bice’s advertisements mischaracterize her record and are being funded by “dark money groups” from outside Oklahoma.

“The assertion that she’s making is absolutely false,” Horn said, pointing to her own bipartisan work with Steven C. Agee, the Republican president of Agee Energy. “These claims have been debunked many times.”

Horn said many negative attack ads were being funded by groups from outside Oklahoma with no true interest in benefitting the people of the state.

“The danger about these dark money groups is that they’re not required to be transparent, they’re not required to file documents, so we don’t know where the money’s coming from,” she said.

Oklahoma’s Fifth Congressional District, which includes Oklahoma City, Edmond, Shawnee and Holdenville, has been projected as the closest toss-up House race in the United States, according to FiveThirtyEight, a polling analysis website. 

SoonerPoll has Horn leading Bice by 1.8 percentage points, while Cole, Hargrave, Snodgrass and Associates has Bice leading by 4.3 percentage points. Both survey results are within each respective poll’s margins of error.

Nationwide organizations aligned with Republican and Democratic parties have spent millions on the race, as the seat is viewed as key for congressional control after Nov. 3. 

The rhetoric in the race is reflective of the contentious presidential election, and recent remarks from party leaders have caused Horn to make her own qualifying comments. 

Democratic contender Joe Biden has faced criticism since the final presidential debate on Oct. 22, during which the former vice president said he would transition away from the oil industry and move toward replacing it with renewable energy alternatives over time.

The next day, Horn distanced herself from Biden’s stance. 

“Here’s ones of the places where Biden and I disagree,” Horn said. “We must stand up for our oil and gas industry.

“We need an all-of-the-above energy approach that’s consumer friendly, values energy independence, and protects Oklahoma jobs. I’ll keep fighting for that in Congress,” Horn said. 

Horn opposed a bill banning hydraulic fracking, the controversial method used for extracting shale gas. The practice is key to Oklahoma’s current energy infrastructure but has attracted heavy criticism for wastewater injection and its connection to increased earthquake activity.

Biden has similarly opposed a ban on fracking, but is supportive of tighter regulation on a federal level.

Gaylord News reached out to Bice’s state senate and campaign offices, but she was unavailable for comment. 

Despite being a reliable Republican stronghold for 40 years prior, the district’s political climate has varied more recently. President Donald Trump won the district in the 2016 presidential election, but Horn defeated then-incumbent Republican Steve Russell in the 2018 midterms by 51 percent to 49 percent. 

That same year, while Gov. Kevin Stitt won the state overall, he lost the Fifth District by 13 percentage points to his Democratic opponent, former Attorney General Drew Edmondson.

With only days left until the election, Horn and Bice are leaning on endorsements to shore up their public images and secure the seat. 

Horn has been endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Oklahoma Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and television host Bill Nye the Science Guy. 

Bice has been endorsed by the National Rifle Association, the Oklahoma State Fraternal Order of Police, former U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley, and President Trump.

Gaylord News correspondent Emma Sears contributed to this report.

Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.