Neese called Bice Tuesday evening to concede the race.
“We came up short tonight, but I am incredibly humbled by the outpouring of support I have received from Oklahomans across the district since I launched my campaign sixteen months ago. Now is the time for Republicans to focus on the real fight ahead of us: beating Kendra Horn and doing whatever it takes to re-elect President Trump in November,” Neese said in a statement.
Horn, the Democrat who scored a surprising victory over GOP Rep. Steve Russell in 2018, is among Republicans’ top targets to try to win back the House in November.
Although both sides will have plenty of outside aircover, Bice starts the general election at a significant financial disadvantage. She ended the pre-runoff reporting period on August 5 with just $80,000, according to Federal Election Commission filings. Horn had $2.6 million in the bank at the end of June.
Different primary strategies
Both Republican women initially worked for or supported Carly Fiorina in the 2016 Republican presidential primary, but as has been the case in most GOP contests since then, loyalty to Trump was a big part of the race.
The contrast between the two candidates’ messages highlighted different perspectives on how to reclaim this district, a top priority for the GOP this year.
“It is an extraordinarily strong Trump district, conservative district. This is not one of the suburban areas where Republicans have lost females,” Neese’s campaign consultant Matt Langston said Sunday. “She reflects the seat.”
But Bice’s team saw it differently. “This is not a Freedom Caucus district. … The idea that this is some kind of slam dunk is crazy,” said Cam Savage, Bice’s consultant, referring to the competitiveness of the seat in November. “It takes a certain kind of person to win this district,” Savage added, noting that Bice’s willingness to talk about teachers and education, “which aren’t always natural fits for Republicans,” resonates with suburban women.
Guns, taxes and leaked tapes
While Horn had the advantage of campaigning this summer without an opponent, Neese and Bice were hitting each other in advertising and on the debate stage.
Guns have been a frequent motif in their messaging. Neese’s ads include a close-up shot of her hand pulling a gun out of a car glove compartment. Bice’s ads show her firing a gun, while attacking Neese’s business for not allowing firearms on the premises. Neese’s campaign said that does not reflect the staffing agency’s policy when Neese ran it.
Neese had locked up a key Republican ally in the Club for Growth. Bice has the backing of former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, who rebranded her leadership PAC this cycle to support women in primaries. But neither of those endorsements came with the kind of outside help to match the Club’s.
Bice took to the air defending her vote for a tax package that gave teachers a pay increase, saying, “We were shortchanging them — and our students.”
Despite the spending advantage conferred by the Club in the primary, Neese was confronted with a series of negative headlines in the final stretch of the race.
This story has been updated with additional developments Tuesday.