House GOP spending chief Tom Cole defeats Challenger in Oklahoma primary

Rep. Tom Cole, a veteran Oklahoma Republican and chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee, fended off a primary challenge from a well-financed right-wing businessman on Tuesday, putting him on track to win a 12th term.

Mr. Cole, first elected to Congress in 2002, has long been a fixture of Oklahoma politics and an influential legislative voice behind the scenes in Congress. The Associated Press called the race less than an hour after the polls closed, with Cole leading by an overwhelming margin.

Mr. Cole rose to the helm of the influential Appropriations Committee in April, taking a coveted position on Capitol Hill that put him in charge of allocating federal spending. The committee's top members can direct federal dollars not only within the government, but also into their own districts.

But as the GOP has veered right in recent years and become increasingly doctrinaire about federal spending cuts, the Appropriations gavel has turned into a political liability for Republicans. Cole's opponent, Paul Bondar, an anti-spending conservative businessman, tried to weaponize the congressman's 15-year tenure on the committee against him. Mr. Bondar argued that Mr. Cole's time on Capitol Hill had left him out of touch with his district and attacked his voting record as insufficiently conservative.

“Tom Cole voted with the Democrats for billions in new deficit spending,” a narrator said in a TV ad. “Paul Bondar opposes new federal spending.”

From the beginning, Mr. Bondar pledged to invest large amounts of his personal wealth in the race. With more than $8 million spent by the end of last week, it became one of the most expensive House primaries this year — and the most competitive primary challenge Mr. Cole had faced in years.

“It's like an old-fashioned bar fight,” Mr. Cole told Roll Call. “The guy who wins a bar fight isn't the one with the most money; he is the boy with the most friends. And I have a lot of friends in that district.

Mr. Cole's predecessor on the committee, Representative Kay Granger of Texas, also faced a well-funded primary challenge when she led the panel, and was also able to use her stature in the district to handily defeat her.

Ultimately, Cole's status as a political veteran in the district, as well as Bondar's political weaknesses – chief among them his recent move to the state from Texas – allowed him to prevail. A dodgy interview that Mr. Bondar gave to a local television reporter in which he confessed to having connected to the call from Texas was widely circulated in the district.

“I can't find my way around the district without a map,” Mr. Cole said of his opponent in an interview earlier this month. “It's not that I'm an unknown. My family has lived in this district for 175 years on my mother's side and 140 on my father's side.

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