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Oklahoma’s Fifth Congressional district is going to be one of most competitive House races in 2020. The district is centered around Oklahoma City in the heart of Oklahoma and was one of Democrats’ most unexpected pickups in 2018. FiveThirtyEight gave the Republican incumbent, Steve Russell, an 86% chance of winning re-election. In an upset, his Democratic challenger, Kendra Horn won 50.7% to 49.3%.
It was a surprising win for such a historically safe Republican seat. Republican presidential candidates John McCain and Mitt Romney both carried the district by over 18% and Donald Trump won it by over 13%. While Trump’s smaller margin indicate the district’s leftward trend, it was still a significant margin. Republican incumbent Steve Russel had also safely won his initial 2014 election by 24% and reelection in 2016 by 20%.
All this was enough to lead most forecasters to consider the district safely or likely Republican. But, as we know now, Democrat Kendra Horn would overcome the district’s historically Republican bent and win an upset.
But Trump will be on the ticket in 2020 and Republicans are targeting Democrats such as Horn who won in districts that the president carried in 2016. This is probably a good bet, especially in Oklahoma where Donald Trump is still popular. According to Morning Consult, Trump has a net +9% approval rating in Oklahoma. And while he is likely not as popular within the Fifth District, his 2016 margin along with his statewide popularity indicate some appeal to voters in the district.
2018 was also a particularly favorable year for Democrats running in House elections. The data firm Catalist Analytics calculated that, when uncontested races are accounted for, Democrats won the national popular vote by 7.3%. Given that Horn won by under 2%, it’s easy to see why Republicans are optimistic about their shot at flipping the district in a more neutral environment. This optimism is bolstered by Republicans outnumbering Democrats in the district by about 28,000 voters.
But Horn is shaping up to be an especially formidable incumbent. She raised nearly $1.5 million as of the end of September and currently faces no Democratic opponent. Republicans, on the other hand, have two candidates who have raised seven figures. At the end September, conservative businesswoman Terry Neese had raised $735,000 and State Senator Stephanie Bice had raised nearly $350,000. A competitive primary could draw down their financial reserves and divide the party while Kendra Horn focuses on fundraising and campaigning for the general.
The district’s demographics also look good for Horn. Nationally, urban and suburban areas, especially those with diverse and educated populations, are trending blue. Oklahoma’s Fifth District is 14% black and 7% Latino, two group that votes overwhelmingly Democratic. Additionally, while the district is about 68% white, only about 44% of the district is non-college educated white, the demographic that makes up the Republican Party base. The high proportion of whites with bachelor’s degrees make the district friendly territory for Democrats.
The urban, suburban, educated, and relatively diverse population of the district seem to be following the national trend and moving leftward. Donald Trump carried the district by a 5% smaller margin than McCain in 2008 and Romney in 2012. It is unclear if this shift will be enough to allow Horn to win re-election. Oklahoma’s Fifth District is still one of Republican’s best targets next year and Trump topping the ticket could give their House candidate the necessary boost.
Last week the race took an interesting turn when Trump’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale, tweeted a poll of the Fifth District. While the poll had Republicans leading the generic ballot by 7%, it also showed that 45% of respondents supported impeaching president Trump. The poll, while not great news for Horn, does show many voters oppose the president’s actions and leaves room for Horn to win reelection in what was once a safe Republican district.