OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Muskogee-based seed seller Wayne Herriman has seen big names from the Oklahoma Democratic Party back his opponent in a congressional primary campaign, yet pays no heed — hoping his status as a political newcomer will appeal to voters when they select a party nominee Aug. 28.
“I’m a no-name. I’ve not been in politics. I’m not politically connected,” Herriman said. “That can be a plus or a minus.”
Herriman faces former state and federal prosecutor Rob Wallace in the primary runoff. Wallace served six years in elective office as a district attorney, but laughs off suggestions that the tenure makes him a career politician.
“I think I’m supported by the established leaders in the Democratic community in Oklahoma because they understand this race is winnable and that I’m the candidate who can win it,” Wallace said.
The men are seeking to replace U.S. Rep. Dan Boren, the lone Democrat in Oklahoma’s congressional delegation, who announced last year he wouldn’t seek a fifth term in office. Democrat party officials scrambled to find an ideal candidate who could hold on to the seat in the increasingly conservative district. Six Republicans also ran and two face a runoff in two weeks.
After numerous high-profile Democrats pondered the seat, Wallace emerged as the top contender among high-profile Democrats. He’s been endorsed by arguably two of the most popular Democrats in the state — former Gov. Brad Henry, Wallace’s law school classmate, and University of Oklahoma President David Boren, a former governor and U.S. senator and the father of the current officeholder.
Dan Boren has said he doesn’t plan to endorse anyone in the race.
Wallace, 49, with a tough-on-crime resume, deep roots in the Oklahoma Democratic Party and successful political races in the heavily Democratic “Little Dixie” area of southeastern Oklahoma, has found himself in a knock-down, drag-out primary battle with Herriman, who has used $215,000 of his own money in his campaign. He is trying to label Wallace a career politician with a history of failed business ventures.
Herriman, 59, said he got a cool reception from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Washington when he told them he was running, and he openly admits his status as a political outsider. He defended his attacks on Wallace as a part of politics, especially in a race for a critical congressional seat.
“We both knew when we got into this race that our lives would be exposed,” Herriman said. “As a person that’s going to represent Oklahoma, I believe our credentials ought to be exposed. We’re big boys here, and we intend to go the course.”
The official line from both national and state party officials is that they’re remaining neutral in the primary, but it’s obvious both would have preferred a less bruising primary fight.
“I feel like we have two good candidates, but it is what it is,” said Oklahoma Democratic Party Chairman Wallace Collins. “I wish that one of them had simply chosen a different race to be in.”
Collins prefers to remain optimistic and says a tough primary battle can also help a candidate hone his message and stay engaged with the voters.
“In a sense, it makes you work hard, keeps you tuned up and doesn’t let you take it easy,” Collins said. “Everybody complains about it, but in a sense it makes you work harder.”
Wallace won 46 percent of the vote in the three-way June 26 Democratic primary, but Herriman was a close second with 42 percent, forcing the runoff.
On the Republican side, plumbing company owner Markwayne Mullin finished with 42 percent in a six-man primary field and will face three-term state Rep. George Faught, who had 23 percent, in a primary runoff.
The winners of the primary runoffs will be on the November ballot, along with independent Michael Fulks of Heavener.