U.S. Rep. John Sullivan's Primary Defeat Spurs Analysis

Wednesday, June 27th 2012, 6:12 pm
By: Emory Bryan

In Tuesday's Republican primary election, a big upset took place in the first district race for Congress.

The incumbent lost and that almost never happens.

So why did it happen this time?

Politicians tend to build up baggage and that might have played a part in the election yesterday.

One interesting note is that U.S. Rep. John Sullivan's most recent signature issue -- opposing the Red Clay Casino in Broken Arrow -- didn't appear to help him much last night.

Sullivan is now the rare Oklahoma congressman who lost his seat in a primary election.

The last time it happened was in 1994.

Sullivan said it's clear voters were looking for a change.

"There was a lot of anti-incumbency out there and obviously that had an impact on that...Re-elect no one, I understand that," Sullivan said. "No one is more upset about Washington than I am. It's a toxic place right now. I get that."

On Six in the Morning, primary winner Jim Bridenstine agreed.

"And I think this is an anti-incumbency kind of environment throughout the country and I was the beneficiary of that," Bridenstine said.

Sullivan outspent his opponent almost 3-to-1 and had the advantage of having an experienced political machine.

But political pollster Bill Shapard said, "Sullivan lost because he became his own opponent."

Shapard says negative campaigning suppressed Sullivan's voters and energized those for Bridenstine.

He believes Sullivan made too much of Bridenstine's experience at the Air & Space Museum, and he believes there was a lack of effort to get Sullivan's supporters to vote.

Sullivan's support was weak even in Broken Arrow -- where he helped stop a planned casino.

A casino supporter believes Sullivan misjudged how voters felt about that issue.

"He thought he might have been representing the majority, but he wasn't," Mike Bergman, Broken Arrow Casino Supporter said. "But, hey, I think he should have just done a little more homework before he took that position."

Sullivan's loss in the primary ends 17 years in office on the state and national level.

Sullivan may have crossed that hurdle when experience becomes a liability.

The last time it happened here was to a Democrat, Mike Synar in the second district.