OKLAHOMA CITY – Former three-term Republican Rep. Tom Coburn (search) and Democratic Rep. Brad Carson (search) wasted little time celebrating their Oklahoma Senate primaries, quickly turning their attention toward each other in their bid to replace retiring GOP Sen. Don Nickles (search).
In comments Tuesday night after both scoring impressive victories, Coburn ridiculed Carson's claim of being a conservative Democrat, and Carson questioned Coburn's commitment to Oklahoma. They agreed on only one thing: a tough general election battle looms between two candidates with starkly different visions for the state.
Coburn's win came in a bitter Republican primary that included charges of double-crosses and shady land deals. He got 61 percent of the vote against former Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys (search), who started out as the favorite but garnered only 25 percent.
Looking toward November, Coburn said: "This was the easy part. The hard part's coming." Carson added, "It will be tight and tough."
The outcome of the Carson-Coburn contest could play a big role in who controls the Senate. Oklahoma is one of only a few states with open Senate seats this year, and Democrats are optimistic Carson can win in November despite the state's GOP leanings in Senate races.
Carson easily won the Democratic primary with 79 percent of the vote. His closest competitor was beleaguered Insurance Commissioner Carroll Fisher, who is fighting criminal charges and an impeachment inquiry over his handling of state funds and a charity.
Coburn, a doctor, was known as a maverick and a conservative in Congress, and in 1997 helped lead a revolt against then-GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich (search). Carson, the only Democrat in the state's congressional delegation, is a moderate who supports gun rights, the death penalty and the war in Iraq.
Both men have represented the 2nd Congressional District of eastern Oklahoma and said they would exploit each other's voting records. Carson said he has used his seat in Congress "to benefit the people I've represented. That's something Tom Coburn chose not to do."
Coburn said he is ready to take on Carson and for Republicans to unify after the bitter primary. He said Oklahomans took to his conservative message that condemned pork-barrel spending and called for a balanced budget.
"The people are going to get a real good choice," he said. "It's black and white. I'm someone who has voted conservative, acted conservative and is conservative. I'm running against somebody that wants to act that way, but doesn't vote that way and isn't that way."