CLAREMORE — The 2nd Congressional District Republican runoff may boil down to who has the longer coattails, former President Donald Trump or the late U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn.
That was the upshot of a debate recorded Wednesday at RSU-TV in Claremore.
During the 50-minute back-and-forth, state Rep. Avery Frix repeated his claim to be the “America First” candidate who will stick to “President Trump’s agenda,” while doing his best to saddle former state Sen. Josh Brecheen as the “anti-Trump” candidate because of his biggest financial backer.
Brecheen, a former Coburn staffer, did not invoke his old boss’s name as often as Frix did Trump’s, but he frequently recited lines that sounded as if they came from Coburn’s old stump speeches. Although less direct, Brecheen’s answer to a lot of questions boiled down to “no.”
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Regardless of the questions posed by Tulsa World Editorials Editor Ginnie Graham and retired Muskogee Phoenix reporter Dewayne Smoot, answers almost always seemed to come back around to Trump and the Club for Growth, an arch-conservative organization that helped elect Coburn to the Senate and is connected to a political action committee that has put at least $1.8 million into helping Brecheen.
All of that has come from one donor, Pennsylvania futures trader Jeff Yass.
“The subtle smear is that I’m a never-Trumper, which is absolutely false,” said Brecheen. “I voted for him. I supported him. Because a particular organization likes me and they may have an issue (with Trump) on a policy position doesn’t mean I am not in support of what President Trump stood for and the policies he had.”
Frix invited viewers to look up the Club for Growth, which has had a tumultuous relationship with Trump over the years. It initially opposed him, then supported him, then riled him up by supporting candidates other than those he endorsed in Republican primaries this year.
Frix also claimed that Yass is “not a Republican.”
Asked why they chose to emulate Trump, given his penchant for inaccurate statements and in some cases outright lies, Frix said he did not accept the premise.
“The only person I try to emulate is Jesus,” said Brecheen.
Like Coburn, Brecheen outlined a belief in drastically scaled down federal government — except when it comes to “building a wall” on the border with Mexico, which he said must be done more or less regardless of the cost.
Asked how he would pay for such a wall, Brecheen said from government waste.
Besides staunchly supporting whatever Trump puts forward, Frix said his priorities include veterans, “the wall,” and the oil and gas industry.
Asked about a possible federal ban on contraception and same-sex marriage, both candidates ignored the first part of the question but said they favor a national abortion ban as well as a ban on same-sex marriage, which Brecheen seemed to equate with evil.
The debate will be shown on RSU-TV at 7 p.m. Tuesday, 8 p.m. Aug. 20 and 4 p.m. Aug. 21.