George Faught’s surge: Will it be enough in the Second District primary?

In the competitive Republican primary for Oklahoma’s Second Congressional District, state Rep. George Faught may have the best shot at catching frontrunner Markwayne Mullin and forcing his way into the August 28 runoff.

In a six-candidate race it is hard to discern there is an edge for anyone. 

Mullin has money, Dakota Wood (a Marine Corps veteran) has a compelling biography, and Wayne Pettigrew served effectively in the state House. The remaining Republican candidates – Dustin Rowe and Dwayne Thompson – also have discernable support. 

Yet, in the midst of all this, Rep. Faught has late momentum. Mullin has mounting debt and a former employee whose 2009 arrest has evoked an eastern Oklahoma version of “Fast and Furious” speculation. 

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) data for the second quarter shows Faught has now raised $376,359.68, with 70 percent of that coming from residents of the District. He had enough cash on hand to finance his late surge of paid advertising.  
This week, he launched a new television advertisement airing on stations scattered around the sprawling district. The theme of a new spot is Faught’s voting record and legislative service — fighting “ObamaCare,” the health exchange, pressing for a balanced budget and pushing fiscal responsibility. 

Faught also has the endorsement of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, a well-known conservative leader and a familiar face to Oklahomans in the district, which borders the Land of Opportunity.

Also backing Faught are state Auditor & Inspector Gary Jones and national conservative leader Phyllis Schlafly, who presented him an “Eagle Award” last year.

This week, Faught touted the endorsement of Gun Owners of America (GOA), often deemed the Second Amendment rights group that makes the National Rifle Association looking squishy. 

GOA vice chairman Tim Macy told his members Faught’s record had earned him the group’s endorsement, asserting the legislator “backs up with words with actions. He completed the GOA questionnaire 100 percent in favor of your gun rights, and he compiled a perfect voting record as a state legislator. A lifelong resident of Muskogee and small business owner, George is not a career politician; he’s a true citizen-legislator who will stand up for your Second Amendment rights.” 

Faught already had the backing of the Oklahoma Second Amendment Association, having garnered the group’s “Patriot of the Second Amendment” honors in 2011. 

While he has made credible print and broadcast advertising buys, Faught’s campaign is designed to test the proposition that a grass roots effort can offset paid media advantages like those that Markwayne Mullins has established. Faught’s broad grass roots support drew CapitolBeatOK’s attention previously, and was noted as a distinguishing characteristic of his campaign by Marc Nuttle, a national conservative consultant based in Norman. 

Faught has 230 precinct captains – the kind of grass roots organization that characterized successful “New Right” campaigns of the 1970s and early 1980s, but which has faded somewhat in the age of cable and satellite television, and pervasive Internet communication. 

Holly Gerard, the campaign’s grassroots director, insists the district-wide organizational structure will, in combination with Faught’s late funding surge, bring him victory. Her team has been dubbed “front-line for Faught.” 

In comments sent to CapitolBeatOK, Gerard said, “We all volunteer because we know George Faught, have seen firsthand his character and conservatism, and trust his proven record of representing District 2 and our values. Hundreds of volunteers work with enthusiasm, spurring everyone on to call and knock doors in every corner of our 26-county district.”

Gerard’s prior political involvement included work in electing state Sen. Josh Brecheen in the district centered around Choctaw County. Brecheen unseated an incumbent Democrat and is the first Republican ever to hold the seat. 

Terry Allen, a political consultant from Oklahoma who now works in the nation’s capital, commented, “The Faught campaign has to be feeling pretty good right now. With 230 precinct captains, it is virtually unheard of in modern political races. This means they’ve covered the lion’s share of where the GOP vote lies in the 2nd district, and that’s impressive. The only other campaign to build a precinct walking organization to this degree is James Lankford’s 2010 primary race for Congress in the 5th District.

“To build a legitimate walking and knocking operation to that scale is very difficult. If their precinct captains can indeed follow through on their tasks, then it puts Faught in the driver’s seat for the nomination.”  

Even with late strong moves by Rep. Faught and Col. Wood, the “x-factor” in this race is the impact of revelations about Mulllin’s ties to a convicted felon. News reports in the Tulsa World and Claremore Progress led, this week, to a story in The Washington Times about the situation.

In the Washington Times story, Salesha Wilkin — the Claremore newspaper reporter who wrote the first critical analysis about Mullin – was quoted asserting the Mullin campaign has tried to smear her reputation and get her fired. She was reported as saying, “The campaign has tried to get me fired on multiple occasions. They’ve tried to discredit me with other publications. Obviously, they were trying to intimidate me.”
Wilkin said her editors have stood behind her: “Everything I’ve written, I can document with either audio or court documents. Markwayne Mullin does not want to answer questions about problems with the campaign.”  The Washington Times story said Wilken said she carefully scrutinized all the Second District campaigns and did not receive similar backlash or pressure from any of them. 

Although the district’s conservatism has led varied analysts to peg it as a potential Republican pick-up, Democratic registration advantages temper such analyses – especially if the eventual GOP nominee is dogged with controversy.  

As for the Democrats, three candidates are running, two of them sounding a lot like Dan Boren-type moderate conservatives. The frontrunner is Rob Wallace, a former district attorney and assistant U.S. attorney.

The credibility of the likely Democratic nominee makes this a race that cannot be automatically be pegged as a Republican pick-up.