Fiscal Conservative Wins GOP Senate Nod in Oklahoma

Published September 1, 2004

Former U.S. Representative Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) was a runaway winner in the July 27 Oklahoma Republican primary for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by the retirement of incumbent Don Nickles (R). Coburn received 60 percent of the GOP vote, with former Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys a distant second with 26 percent.

Humphreys was the early frontrunner but was forced to address ethics allegations leveled by state corporation commissioner Bob Anthony, who finished third with 13 percent of the vote. “Tom Coburn is a wonderful man, but Bob did his dirty work for him,” Humphreys said in defeat. “Coburn would be hard to beat on a level playing field, but it was not a level playing field.”

November Offers Clear Choice

Coburn will now meet Democrat Rep. Brad Carson in November in a race that could play a large role in determining which party will control the next U.S. Senate. Oklahoma is one of only eight states with an open Senate seat in 2004. Carson won his primary race with 80 percent of the vote.

According to, Carson immediately looked toward the November race, arguing Coburn had hurt the state with his zeal for “restraining federal spending.”

Coburn defended his positions, saying Oklahomans “took to his conservative message that condemned pork-barrel spending and called for a balanced budget.” He said he was ready to “take on Carson and for Republicans to unify” after the bitter primary.

“The people are going to get a real good choice,” Coburn said. “It’s black and white. I’m someone who has voted conservative, acted conservative, and is conservative. I’m running against somebody that wants to act that way, but doesn’t vote that way and isn’t that way,” Coburn said.

Widespread Support for Coburn

The conservative Club for Growth, a membership group whose political arm endorses and funds candidates, claimed victory in Coburn’s primary win. “Despite the Washington and Oklahoma establishments putting a concerted effort behind his opponent, Dr. Coburn and Club for Growth emerged victorious,” said the group’s president, Stephen Moore. “Even Dr. Coburn’s opponent Kirk Humphreys said the Club for Growth had a ‘major impact’ in the race.

“Tom Coburn will bring this passion for free markets and fiscal discipline to the Senate, where it is urgently needed. We look forward to assisting him in the general election campaign and hope to retain this Senate seat for the GOP,” said Moore.

The Club’s PAC endorsed Coburn and raised $360,000 to fund his campaign. The PAC also ran a $170,000 television advertising campaign urging Republicans to vote for Coburn.

“We congratulate conservative champion, doctor, and former congressman Tom Coburn on his decisive victory Tuesday in the Oklahoma U.S. Senate Republican primary,” said Jon Lerner and Jonathan M. Baron in a prepared statement for Red Sea LLC, a polling company. “Dr. Coburn received a stunning 61 percent of the vote, carrying an amazing 76 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties, in a race with three strong and well-funded candidates.

“Without the backing of the establishment, Dr. Coburn relied on his brand of honest, principled, grassroots-oriented, conservative leadership to carry the day with Oklahoma voters. We’re confident that those qualities will prevail in November against liberal Congressman Brad Carson,” noted the Red Sea statement. “That’s when the real fun will begin, as the U.S. Senate has not seen the likes of Tom Coburn in a very long time.”

Coburn is expected to run strong in conservative Oklahoma. Moore noted, “Many have failed to grasp the obvious point on his huge victory: Tom Coburn is the unpolitician. He is what a citizen legislator should be. His personal integrity and the willingness to confront and solve the issues of the day are what set Tom Coburn apart from other candidates.”

John Skorburg ([email protected]) is managing editor of Budget & Tax News.