US Rep Tom Cole wins Oklahoma GOP primary outright against well-funded challenger, 3 others

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Eleven-term Oklahoma U.S. Rep. Tom Cole won a five-way Republican primary outright on Tuesday and avoided an August runoff.

Cole faced a well-funded political newcomer in businessman Paul Bondar, who loaned more than $5 million of his own money to his campaign. The infusion of cash allowed Bondar to blanket television airwaves and social media with advertising touting his candidacy.

Cole, the chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, is seeking a 12th term as representative of Oklahoma’s 4th Congressional District, which stretches across south-central Oklahoma and includes Ada, Ardmore, Duncan, Lawton/Fort Sill, Moore and Norman. He will face Democrat Mary Brannon and independent James Stacy in November.

Campaign finance reports show Bondar spent nearly $4.9 million on the race, essentially all of it from his own pocket. Cole spent about $3.1 million but had about six times as much cash as Bondar on hand.

“Five million dollars in Oklahoma would be like $15 million in Atlanta or $20 million in Los Angeles,” said Chad Alexander, the former chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party and the host of a political talk show on radio station KOKC. “The most frequent question I get asked is when is this election over because there are so many Bondar and Cole ads on the air, people are just sick of them.”

Bondar, who sold an insurance group he founded, criticized Cole’s votes supporting foreign aid, including billions of dollars in funding to Ukraine, but Cole shored up his conservative bona fides with an endorsement from former President Donald Trump.

Bondar faced questions about his residency. He most recently lived in Texas, even voting in that state’s Republican primary in March -- a focal point of Cole’s attacks against him.

Two other Oklahoma congressmen faced challengers.

In the sprawling 3rd Congressional District in western Oklahoma, Republican U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas, the longest-tenured incumbent in the House delegation, easily fended off two lesser-known challengers. Because no Democrats or independents filed for the seat, Lucas won reelection.

In the Tulsa-based 1st District, Republican U.S. Rep. Kevin Hern defeated Paul Royse. On the Democratic side, former FBI agent Dennis Baker defeated perennial candidate Evelyn Rogers. Hern will face Baker and independent Mark David Garcia Sanders in November.

Sean Murphy, The Associated Press