November 26, 2022

Four of the 13 Republicans vying to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe agreed on most points — including America’s need for fewer Democrats and more God — but differed notably on a couple of others during a televised debate Thursday night.

Appearing on KOTV Channel 6, in Tulsa and KWTV Channel 9, in Oklahoma City, Republicans Nathan Dahm, Luke Holland, Scott Pruitt and T.W. Shannon did their best to generate momentum against apparent frontrunner Markwayne Mullin with less than three weeks remaining before the July 28 primary.

Mullin, Oklahoma’s 2nd District congressman, was scheduled to participate but canceled, citing his need to be at a Thursday noon vote in the U.S. House of Representatives on a bill that would allow federal courts to issue extreme risk protection orders to disarm persons judged a danger to themselves or others.

The “red-flag” bill passed despite the “no” votes of Mullin and the rest of Oklahoma’s House delegation.

Griffin Communications, which owns the two TV stations, invited the four present Thursday night in the belief that they have the best chance of catching or getting into a runoff with Mullin, who available polling indicates is leading.

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A few shots were taken at Mullin, most notably by Dahm, but for the most part each of the four tried to convince the audience that he is best equipped to do battle with President Joe Biden, Democrats, the socialist left and inflation.

God and Jesus were prominently invoked, especially by Dahm and Holland, the latter of whom has made prayer and religion prominent themes of his campaign.

The four really disagreed on only two issues: The U.S. Supreme Court’s McGirt ruling and American support for Ukraine.

Holland defended the $40 billion Ukranian military aid package recently approved by Congress — including by Inhofe and Mullin — saying “the worst thing that could happen to the United States right now is for Russia to steamroll through Ukraine and then begin to invade Poland or Romania, which are NATO allies, which would require (U.S. service members) to go and defend them.”

Dahm, Pruitt and Shannon, though, all said they would have voted against the aid, with Dahm citing “corruption” in eastern Europe, Pruitt saying it was a waste of money and Shannon complaining that it should have been spent on the U.S. border with Mexico.

“Republicans should be ashamed for siding with Joe Biden” on Ukraine, Shannon said.

The sharpest division concerned the McGirt decision.

Dahm, a state senator from Broken Arrow, said he would support legislation to “disestablish” the eastern Oklahoma tribal reservations recognized by the McGirt decision for purposes of major crimes, while Pruitt, a former Oklahoma attorney general and legislator, called the the ruling an “existential threat” that Congress should address.

Holland, Inhofe’s former chief of staff, was more noncommittal, saying he believes the situation can be worked out once the court resolves some questions surrounding its decision.

Shannon, a Chickasaw citizen and president of the Chickasaw Nation Bank before entering the Senate race, said there is actually more law enforcement in eastern Oklahoma under McGirt and that Oklahoma and its Native American tribes “have a history of working together.”

In answer to the panel moderators, Shannon said he has no qualms about the amicus brief he signed in support of the McGirt decision. He said Jimcy McGirt, who had challenged his state conviction because of his tribal membership, has since been convicted in federal court and is serving a longer sentence than his original one.

The other three were also asked similarly pointed questions.

Pruitt denied allegations in a recent report that he ordered his drivers to improperly use sirens and flashing lights and drive dangerously to get to meetings while he was director of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Holland said he remains proud of his endorsement from Inhofe — and mentioned it at every opportunity — when asked if he was disappointed that it hasn’t produced better poll numbers.

Dahm was unapologetic about a crude joke he directed toward Vice President Kamala Harris, saying Harris “is not a role model for our daughters, for women, if you look at just not the policies she’s taken but her entry into politics.”

Each of the four said he supports a national ban on abortion, repeated discredited claims about the 2020 election when asked about Thursday night’s hearing on the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot, said Democrats are delighted by high fuel prices, opposed all gun control measures and promised to support congressional term limits.

Not included in Thursday’s debate were Alex Gray, Adam Holley, Jessica Jean Garrison, Laura Moreno, Michael Coiboin, Paul Royse, John F. Tompkins and Dr. Randy Grellner.

The winner of the primary or possible runoff will meet Democrat Kendra Horn, Libertarian Robert Murphy and independent Ray Woods in the Nov. 8 general election.

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randy.krehbiel@tulsaworld.com

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