5th District Debate Enlivens Dull Congress Races

Sunday, October 22nd 2006, 2:00 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Democrat David Hunter is providing some spark in the race to succeed Ernest Istook in the 5th Congressional District, but he remains a decided underdog against Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin, a proven Republican vote-getter.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma's incumbent congressmen are heavily favored to keep their seats against underfunded opponents.

Hunter, a low-key doctor who has practiced in Oklahoma City for 25 years, drew applause during a televised debate when he criticized the war in Iraq, challenged Fallin to reject funding from House Speaker Dennis Hastert and called for changes in the country's health care system.

He deflected criticism over illegal immigrants getting Medicaid benefits by saying doctors and hospitals can't even ask about a person's citizen status and have a duty to treat everyone needing emergency help.

``How many of you would like to see dead bodies laying in the streets because we can't give them enough medical care?'' he asked.

Fallin's ``faith, family and freedom'' theme served her well as she won a tough five-way primary for the GOP nomination, trouncing popular Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett in a runoff.

She disagreed with Hunter during the debate over his suggestion that the nation turn to a single-payer insurance system in delivering health care benefits.

She said she opposed monopolies and favored other changes to reduce costs, such as curbing malpractice lawsuits and health savings accounts.

Hunter, 57, said the problem with that approach is it does not help 46 million Americans who cannot afford health insurance.

He said Iraq was a quagmire and that the United States needs to stabilize that country as fast as possible and withdraw its troops. He has frequently criticized the Bush administration for not having a plan to get out of Iraq.

Fallin, 51, said she opposed ``cutting and running.'' In an interview before the debate, she said the United States has a plan and it led to Democratic elections in Iraq. ``Our plan now is to help build a strong military and government that can run a democracy.''

Hunter's spokesman Thomas Purvis said the response Hunter received at the debate has energized the campaign. ``Our supporters are excited, along with the voters of the 5th District,'' he said.

Hunter was concentrating on fundraising Friday. Federal Election Commission reports last week showed Fallin was outspending the Democratic candidate, $1.2 million to $215,359.

She is bidding to become the first woman elected to Congress from Oklahoma since Alice Robertson in 1920. She is a former House member who was raised in Tecumseh, where her father and mother served as mayor.

Hastert is scheduled to come to Oklahoma for an Oct. 30 fundraising event for Fallin. Hunter is among the Democrats accusing Hastert of a cover-up in the congressional page scandal and has called on Fallin to cancel the fundraiser with the speaker and return money she got from a GOP congressional pact.

Fallin has rejected those demands, saying she is outraged over improper text messages sent to congressional pages by disgraced Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., but has received no information that Hastert knew about the messages.

The page scandal also has figured in the 4th Congressional District race between incumbent Republican Rep. Tom Cole and Democrat Hal Spake.

Spake, a career diplomat with the State Department, has doubted Hastert's account that he did not know about the salacious messages sent to pages by Foley. He also said Foley's conduct should investigated by someone other than the House Ethics Committee, of which Cole is a member.

``This may be a criminal matter and there should be no appearance of conflict of interest,'' he said.

As far for himself, Cole has said he knew nothing of Foley's activities with pages until they were exposed in news accounts.

He said the ethics panel ``is operating, just as it should, in a bipartisan, professional and expeditious manner'' and will work to uncover the truth.

The latest FEC report shows Cole and 3rd Congressional District Rep. Frank Lucas, a Republican from Cheyenne, had more than $500,000 in their campaign accounts. The only Democrat in the delegation, Rep. Dan Boren of Muskogee in the 2nd Congressional District, had more than $300,000, as did GOP Rep. John Sullivan of Tulsa, who represents the 1st Congressional District.

Spake, who lives in Norman, had raised $14,638, while Lucas' foe, Tulsa social services consultant Sue Barton, had raised $14,495.

Tulsa attorney Alan Gentges, the Democrat challenging Sullivan, had raised $37,732, and Boren's opponent _ perennial candidate Patrick Miller of Snow _ did not file a report.

Independent Bill Wortman, who is on the ballot in the 5th District, also did not file a report with the FEC, which does not require reports if candidates do not raise $5,000.