Second District Congressman and Republican U.S. Senate nominee Markwayne Mullin says he puts 350 miles a day on his pickup as he crisscrosses the state campaigning.
“I talk to the people of Oklahoma every day,” he said during a brief conversation this week.
His Democratic opponent, Kendra Horn, says Mullin can’t be found anywhere, except maybe campaigning for Republicans in other states.
Mullin and Horn, plus Libertarian Robert Murphy and independent Ray Woods, are vying to serve the remaining four years of retiring Republican Jim Inhofe’s term.
“Until probably the last week or two (Mullin) hasn’t been out and about much,” Horn said this week. “He’s been out of the state, for the most part, from the runoff until recently. We know this because we’ve seem pictures of him all over the place.”
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That’s frustrating for Horn, who as a decided underdog would like head-to-head opportunities to win some votes from Mullin.
On the other hand, though, Mullin seems to be just playing the percentages.
No Republican U.S. Senate candidate has gotten less than 60% in Oklahoma since 2008, and no Democrat has gotten more than 40% since 2004.
No Democrat has actually won since 1990.
Not much in recent trends suggests a change. One survey does show Horn as close as 6 points, and she did win the 2018 5th Congressional District race against almost all expectations, but in a statewide race, Mullin holds most of the cards.
“She’s just trying to use us to get her attention,” Mullin recently told Tulsa’s Fox 23. “There’s no point in me just standing up there to give her a platform to attack us. We run a very clean and positive campaign. You’ve never seen a negative ad come from us. So what’s the upside of this?”
Mullin has not given many interviews to Oklahoma news organizations since his runoff victory over T.W. Shannon. His campaign did not respond to Tulsa World requests for an interview for this story. When asked about it at a recent rally for Gov. Kevin Stitt, Mullin said the World had been too critical of him.
Other news organizations say they’ve been unable to talk with him, too.
But he has appeared on some Oklahoma television stations and national outlets, such as Newsmaxx and Fox. He recently told Undaunted.Life: A Man’s Podcast that he’s campaigned for Republican candidates in Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Georgia and New Hampshire.
“Oklahomans are noticing he’s not here,” Horn said. “It has not gone past people’s attention that he’s ignored all debate requests, that he’s refusing to answer questions.”
Whether many voters care is another matter. Mullin was very much in evidence during the Republican primary and runoff campaigns earlier in the year, and laid out a platform of business deregulation, just as it has been for the entirety of his 10 years in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Since the runoff, Mullin has somewhat moderated his rhetoric on the 2020 presidential election, which he has described as stolen from Republicans, and former U.S. President Donald Trump, who he and his family reportedly visited in Florida recently.
Publicly, Mullin derides all Democrats as extremists and socialists.
“There are no moderate Democrats in Washington, D.C.,” he said during the Stitt rally.
In Congress, though, Mullin has worked with Democrats to pass legislation beneficial to the 2nd District, which is poorer, more rural and more technologically isolated than most. Off the House floor, he was friends with then-Rep. Joseph Kennedy III, grandson of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.
He has both revved up crowds with incendiary speeches about Democrats and calmed them down by saying disagreement is no reason for incivility.
Horn, meanwhile, says she just keeps trying to convince voters that a Democrat can represent them better than Mullin.
In terms of issues, Horn and Mullin probably most disagree on abortion rights. She is for them, to some degree at least. He opposes them in all or almost all circumstances.
Horn, though, talks about who is more likely to get things done for Oklahomans.
“My approach … has never changed,” she said. “Since the very beginning, I’ve been reaching Oklahomans where they are, having conversations on the real issues, and not just falling into this ‘us versus them’ and the stereotypical check-a-box for a party.”
Horn said she voted against party leadership more than just about anybody, Republican or Democrat, during her single term representing the 5th District. She is critical of extremism in both parties,
“We helped a lot of people,” Horn said. “That’s what my record shows. It doesn’t show somebody who was a rubber stamp.
“In contrast, Markwayne is more than happy to just point fingers at Democrats. And this is the problem I have with the way politics is talked about today. We’ve got to stop lumping everybody in with the most extreme voices on either side,” she said. “What we need are thoughtful, moderate, intentional leaders on both sides of the aisle.”
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