OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - It turns out Oklahoma's five Republican U.S. House members had little to worry about from challengers in Tuesday's primary election, but the same couldn't be said for their GOP counterparts in the state Legislature.
Two incumbent Republican House members targeted for defeat by a pro-education group were ousted by GOP challengers, and a state senator also lost. It's unusual for more than one or two incumbents to lose in a cycle, especially in a primary.
Anger over a looming budget crisis and cuts to public schools prompted dozens of political newcomers to run for office, many of them teachers or former school administrators with ties to education. A grassroots group formed Oklahoma Parents and Educators for Public Education and aimed to knock off incumbents who supported vouchers or cast other votes that were perceived as harmful to public schools.
"I have a lot of concerns about public education," said 42-year-old homemaker Audrey Reeves, a Republican from Moore who said she'd be willing to vote for a pro-education Democrat for legislative office. "I was glad to see a lot of educators, teachers running for office. It may take the people with teaching experience to make the changes that we need there."
In the Duncan area, five-term state Rep. Dennis Johnson of Duncan lost to small businessman Marcus McEntire in the GOP primary, while challenger Carol Bush ousted GOP incumbent state Rep. Ken Walker in Tulsa. Both Johnson and Walker were targeted for defeat by the education group, which backed both McEntire and Bush.
"Everybody is very upset with the whole education and our lack of funding for our underserved and poor population and the mentally ill," said Bush, who recently retired from a nonprofit group to campaign full time. "I really think the majority of the people I met at the doors were really very upset with how the budget was handled this year."
Bush and McEntire both advance to the general election in November.
Oklahoma Parents and Educators for Public Education backed candidates in 59 races, identifying them as legislators who would be supportive of public schools. In those contests, 33 won nominations and at least eight others will be in runoffs.
"I know not all of our candidates are going to win, but we're close or we're going to win many of those races," said Angela Little, who co-founded the group after growing frustrated with budget cuts to public schools. "It's more about passion and heart for these people as opposed to just doing a job."
Republican State Sen. Corey Brooks of Washington also lost his bid for a second term in office, losing to Duncan businessman Paul Scott.
In congressional races, all five of Oklahoma's U.S. House members easily beat back Republican primary challengers and advanced to November's general election, while U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine in Tulsa automatically retains his 1st District seat with his victory.
Bridenstine, along with U.S. Reps. Tom Cole, Frank Lucas, Markwayne Mullin and Steve Russell, all easily advanced to November's general election.
Cole will face Democrat Christina Owen and Libertarian Sevier White in November, while Russell will face Libertarian Zachary Knight and the winner of a Democratic primary runoff election between college professor Tom Guild and former state Sen. Al McAffrey. Lucas will face Democrat Frankie Robbins in November, while Mullin will face Democrat Joshua Harris-Till and independent John McCarthy.
"This was one of the ugliest or dirtiest races ran against us," Mullin said of his primary contest against Jarrin Jackson, a West Point graduate and Army combat veteran who hammered Mullin as a Washington insider who wasn't conservative enough for the district. "It's pretty humbling to see that our constituents saw through it."
The only primary race for the U.S. Senate seat was between two Libertarian Party candidates, since neither incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. James Lankford nor Democratic challenger Mike Workman of Tulsa drew any primary opposition.
In all primaries, if no candidate gets a majority of the votes cast, a runoff primary election for the top two vote getters is set for Aug. 23. The general election is Nov. 8.
(Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)