OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Rep. Ernest Istook endorsed former Congressman Tom Coburn for the U.S. Senate on Tuesday and urged Oklahoma Republicans to avoid a runoff by uniting behind the Muskogee doctor.
``It's vital that we elect a Republican successor to Don Nickles,'' Istook said in a statement released by his campaign office in Oklahoma City. ``To do that, we need to pick our nominee in a way that helps us win in November.
``Oklahoman Republicans don't need a runoff in this Senate race; we need to unite behind the candidate who can best keep this seat. We face the possibility of a runoff, but Dr. Tom Coburn is very near the majority it takes to avoid that.
``For this reason and many others, I've decided to cast my vote for Dr. Coburn.''
The endorsement, which comes a week before the July 27 primary, should not be a surprise, since Coburn and Istook served together in Congress, said Rich Buchanan, a spokesman for Humphreys.
``What I find remarkable, however, is that so many of Tom Coburn's former colleagues have endorsed Kirk Humphreys,'' Buchanan said.
``Clearly, Congressman Istook has no qualms with Kirk's conservative credentials, else he would have never asked Kirk to appear in his campaign commercials the last time he ran,'' he added.
Istook, who is running for re-election in the 5th Congressional District, seriously considered making a Senate race himself.
When he dropped out of contention, he said it had nothing to do with pressure from U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, a supporter of Humphreys. The former Oklahoma City mayor also has drawn the backing of former U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts.
Kyle D. Loveless, Istook's campaign manager, said recent polls show that Coburn is within striking distance of winning the GOP race without a runoff.
They include a statewide SurveyUSA poll, taken July 16-18 for Oklahoma City television station KFOR-TV and Tulsa station KJRH-TV.
It showed Coburn favored by 46 percent of 436 ``certain'' GOP voters. Humphreys got 32 percent and Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony got 12 percent with 11 percent undecided. The margin of error was 4.8 percentage points.
A statewide poll of 291 registered Republican voters, taken July 8-12 by Tulsa-based Consumer Logic, showed Coburn with 37 percent support and Humphreys with 34 percent.
``I suspect about this time in 1992, certainly few thought Ernest Istook was the best hope for keeping the congressional district in Republican hands _ and the same can be said for Don Nickles in the 1980 U.S. Senate race,'' Buchanan said.
``Oklahoma voters have a way about them that ignores the polls and conventional wisdom espoused by some and elect the person they think is best for the job,'' he added.