OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Westville plumbing company owner Markwayne Mullin defeated longtime state and federal prosecutor Rob Wallace on Tuesday, giving Republicans the open U.S. House seat in eastern Oklahoma.
Mullin, 35, touted his experience in the private sector building up his company, Mullin Plumbing, from a struggling six-worker operation to a statewide business with more than 100 employees. The Republican painted himself as a citizen-legislator and vowed to serve no more than six years in office if elected.
He also railed against federal spending and the growing national debt, and was able to deflect criticism that his own company enjoyed more than $370,000 in contracts paid for with federal stimulus funds, despite his opposition to Democratic President Barack Obama’s stimulus plan. Mullin said he was unaware the projects awarded through the Cherokee Nation were paid for with federal stimulus money.
Mullin shared his victory with members of his family and supporters at a watch party in Muskogee.
“I feel great. I’m very humbled,” Mullin said.
Mullin said his focus in Congress will be repealing the nation’s health care overhaul law, reducing the national debt and energizing the economy. Mullin said his experience as a small businessman will help him accomplish his goals.
“Let’s start getting this economy back on track. Small business owners know how to do it,” he said.
Mullin has said he would serve no more than six years in office if elected, and he said he plans to fulfill that promise.
“I’ve got a family and I’ve got a business to run,” Mullin said.
Kenneth Crabtree, 52, a property manager in Muskogee, said he voted for Mullin. Crabtree said he likes Mullin because he’s a small businessman and because of “the Christian values that he has.”
Wallace, a Democrat from Fort Gibson, had been endorsed by some of the party’s biggest names, including former Oklahoma Govs. Brad Henry and David Boren. Little-funded independent Michael Fulks of Heavener also was on the ballot in the race to represent the 2nd Congressional District.
Wallace, 49, faced an uphill battle with Obama at the top of the ticket in a district that has grown increasingly conservative. Although Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 2-to-1 in the district, Obama barely topped 42 percent among Democratic voters in the district in the March presidential primary over four little-known candidates, and he failed to win a single county in the district — or in the state — in the 2008 general election.
Wallace said he believes his campaign ran an effective race but that it was not enough to overcome the wave of opposition to Obama in traditionally Democratic eastern Oklahoma.
“I’m convinced that we had the right message. It was just too much to overcome,” Wallace said. “We fell a little short. That’s the nature of what we do.”
Wallace tried to portray himself as an anti-abortion, pro-gun Democrat who fit the conservative nature of the district, which stretches across 26 eastern Oklahoma counties from the foothills of the Ozark Mountains in the northeast to the Red River border with Texas in the south.
Wallace wished his Republican opponent well in Congress.
“He has some very difficult decisions in front of him,” Wallace said.
Mullin will replace outgoing Democratic U.S. Rep. Dan Boren, who announced last year that he wouldn’t seek a fifth term in office.