OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Two Republican candidates seeking an open congressional seat in eastern Oklahoma attacked each other, rather than the president, on health care Monday, arguing over whether one of them should be held accountable for remarks made at a candidate forum last year.
A television advertisement aired by state Rep. George Faught’s campaign includes a clip of businessman Markwayne Mullin saying he supports a “single-payer, single-pay system” when it comes to medical care.
Faught’s ad suggests Mullin backs changes in the nation’s health care system pushed by President Barack Obama; Mullin said he misused the term “single-payer” and intended to say everyone should have their own stake in their care, not that it should be provided by the government.
Both say they oppose health care plans derided by Republicans as “Obamacare.”
Faught’s campaign spent about $16,000 to run the ads district-wide on the Fox News Channel for two weeks.
The 30-second commercial includes a short clip of Mullin speaking at a candidate forum in eastern Oklahoma in August 2011 — shortly after both men launched their campaigns.
During a discussion about the new federal health care law, Mullin said he thinks a “single-payer, single-pay system would be the best.”
Single-payer health insurance typically refers to universal health care where all costs are paid by a single source, usually a government-operated pool.
Mullin was not available for comment Monday, but said in a statement that while he misspoke, it should be clear from the context that he does not favor nationalized health care.
“In fact, I was arguing that everyone should have a financial stake in their own care, which is pretty much the opposite of free health care,” he said. “My opponent knows this, but he is taking my words out of context in order to deceive voters.”
Mullin noted that even during the forum, he said Medicaid recipients should be required to pay more for their health care.
His campaign manager, Tim Ross, acknowledged that Mullin “misused the term” during the candidate forum, but said the ad is “disingenuous” because Faught knows Mullin does not agree with Obama on health care.
Mullin, the owner and chief executive of a plumbing company, has said his opposition to the federal health care law and the hardship it would place on businesses like his are one of the reasons he got into the race.
Faught said Monday he’s not entirely clear what Mullin’s position is on health care, but regardless of whether Mullin supports universal health care or simply was unclear about the terminology, “either one is bad.”
“Come on, we’re running for Congress. We’re not running for school board,” Faught said. “He ought to be up on the issues. These are issues that are going to be coming before the next congressman.”
Leroy Bridges, director of outreach for the Political Communication Center at the University of Oklahoma, said he believes the ad could be particularly effective in the 2nd Congressional District, where Obama won only 42 percent of the vote against four little-known Democratic challengers during the presidential primary election in March.
“President Obama’s rating in Oklahoma is pretty low, and anybody associated with Obama — that’s a negative,” Bridges said.
While the ad gives no context for Mullin’s comments, Bridges said it’s not out of line to use a candidate’s own words in an attack ad.
“A candidate has to be careful about what he said, because parts of it can be taken out and used against you, even though you might have said something in front of it or after it,” Bridges said. “To me, it doesn’t seem like it’s out of bounds to run an ad like that.”
Mullin and Faught were the top vote getters in a six-way Republican primary on June 26. Mullin topped the field with 42 percent of the vote, and Faught finished second with 23 percent, forcing a head-to-head matchup in an Aug. 28 primary runoff since neither topped 50 percent.
Two Democrats seeking the seat also face a runoff — longtime state and federal prosecutor Rob Wallace and Muskogee seed company owner Wayne Herriman. Independent Michael Fulks of Heavener awaits the primary winners in the November general election.