Cole, Bondar headline 8-way fight for 4th District seat

Gun Rights

Normally, the campaigns for Oklahoma’s 4th Congressional District draw several hopefuls but offer few fireworks. U.S. Rep Tom Cole, a Republican from Moore, has held the seat since 2003.

Cole, who previously served as a state senator in Oklahoma and later as secretary of state under then-Gov. Frank Keating, is no political lightweight. Cole has served director of the National Republican Congressional Committee in the 1992 election cycle and as chief of staff of the Republican National Committee in 2000.

This year Cole was named chairman of the House Appropriations Committee — one of the most powerful committees in Congress. The committee — along with its counterpart in the U.S. Senate — writes the federal budget.

But this year, the race for Cole’s seat — as described by the congressman, himself — is a bar fight. Along with the four Republicans challenging Cole in the upcoming primary election, the winner in June will face an independent candidate and the winner of the Democratic primary.

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On the Republican side, Cole is squaring off against Andrew Hayes, of Lawton; Nick Hankins, of Moore; Rick Whitebear Harris, of Norman; and Paul Bondar, who has been living in Texas, but recently staked a claim in Oklahoma as his home state.

Two Democrats, Mary Brannon, of Washington, and Kody Macaulay, of Moore, are battling for the Democratic primary nomination. The winners of the Republican and Democratic primaries will face James Stacy, an independent from Burneyville, in the fall general election.

And while at first glance the race for the 4th District seat seems competitive, in reality the real fight is in the GOP primary between Bondar and Cole.

Candidate finances, donations

Federal Election Commission documents show that Bondar has raised about $13,000 from outside donors and lent his campaign $5.1 million. He reported $264,809 cash on hand in his latest filing. Bondar has spent heavily on television and print advertising.

For his part, Cole has raised $3,143,477.77 for the campaign and reported $1,303,788 cash on hand. Cole’s filing shows his campaign has no debt, and Cole has not, as of June 11, loaned his campaign any funds.

Several political action committees also are spending money in the race. The Wisconsin-based super PAC Americans 4Security spent $3,084,502 against Bondar. Other groups, including the National Rifle Association, The National Association of Realtors and the Oklahoma Victor Committee, have all spent funds in support of Cole.

Federal records show that Macaulay, one of the two Democrats seeking the post, has raised $23,702. None of the remaining candidates reported raising money or expenditures.

Disagreement on Ukraine aid, border security

Though Cole and Bondar appear to align on many issues, Bondar has criticized the congressman for support of aid to Ukraine. Bondar said his campaign was an attempt to push back against the “uni-party in the country that dumps special interest dark money into the systems and tries to conjure up non-issues (against) people like myself.”

Bondar said excessive government spending burdens taxpayers and fuels inflation.

“We cannot afford to continue down a path of reckless spending that jeopardizes our economic prosperity and burdens future generations with unsustainable debt,” Bondar said in a posting on his campaign website. “I will prioritize responsible budgeting, identify areas of wasteful spending, and advocate for policies that promote fiscal discipline and long-term economic growth.”

Bondar also called for the impeachment of President Joe Biden.

“Joe Biden’s presidency has been marked by a series of failures and constitutional breaches that warrant serious consideration for impeachment. From his mishandling of the Afghanistan withdrawal, resulting in the abandonment of American citizens and allies, to his failure to secure our southern border, Joe Biden has demonstrated a pattern of incompetence and neglect of duty,” read a statement on Bondar’s campaign website.

Cole, for more than year, has said supporting the Ukrainian effort against Russia is part of a larger national security effort for the United States.

“As we prepare for the possibility of similar aggression in other parts of the world, the Indo-Pacific and elsewhere, we must enhance our deterrence of war by following through in cases where it does occur,” Cole said in 2003. “We must stand firmly against Putin’s brutal, illegal aggression for the sake of a peaceful world where people can live safely, economies can flourish and tyranny is put on notice. In doing so, we also reassure our nation’s many treaty allies in Europe of our resolve and show Putin and Communist China that the U.S. stands strong for freedom for the long term.”

Bondar countered that the U.S. should focus on border security instead of funding Ukraine.

“While we sympathize with their plight, we must prioritize the needs of the American people. At a time when our borders are insecure and inflation is squeezing American families, diverting additional funds to Ukraine is not a viable option,” a posting on Bondar’s website said. “We must focus on securing our own borders and addressing the economic challenges facing our citizens. Instead of committing additional resources to foreign conflicts, we must prioritize domestic issues and ensure that American taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars are used responsibly. This means focusing on policies that strengthen our economy, secure our borders, and improve the lives of everyday Americans.”

Cole’s campaign has zeroed in on Bondar’s connection to Oklahoma. Cole said Bondar was trying to buy the congressional seat and that Bondar did not own property in Oklahoma.

“Paul Bondar’s bought lots of nice things,” Cole’s television ad said. “Like his luxury mansion in Illinois, where he didn’t pay his taxes. And Bondar’s mansion in Texas, yes, Texas, where Bondar swore he lived when he voted just weeks ago.”

Bondar said he now lives in Oklahoma. Bondar, who grew up in Wisconsin, spent his adult life in Illinois. He owned the Bondar Insurance Group in Oak Brook, Illinois, and moved to Texas in 2020. Records show that Bondar holds a Texas driver’s license and voted as recently as March 5 in a Texas election. Bondar was issued an Oklahoma driver’s license in April.

Bondar’s campaign said he has owned property in Oklahoma since 2022.

“Regardless of what Mr. Cole wants you to believe, I own land in Oklahoma,” Bondar said in a statement emailed to The Oklahoman. “I am building a home on 500+ acres north of Durant and am currently leasing a house in Stonewall. I’m proud to be an Oklahoman now and more excited for the future of this great state when I’m elected.”

Bondar countered that Cole “has served 22 years in the House and as a matter of public record, that anyone can verify, Cole has not voted in Oklahoma in person for 20+ years.”  

Bondar downplayed the claim that he was attempting to buy a congressional seat. “Why would I buy a seat from the appropriation committee chair who has billions at his disposal? I am running because I am new to Oklahoma and want to remove the worst career politician and provide solutions to Oklahoma’s 15% poverty rate,” Bondar said. “Unlike Mr. Cole, I am self-financing to ensure I’m not beholden to special interests.”

Hankins, another Republican challenger for Cole’s seat, said he would close the border, “end illegal immigration, asylum abuse and catch and release and deport all illegal aliens.” Hankins said he, too, was opposed to funding the war in Ukraine.

Candidates in Democrat primary

Democrat Macaulay said his past military and IT experience make him a good candidate for office.

“His multifaceted background in the military, law enforcement, and IT positions him as an adept advocate for the diverse needs of his constituents,” a posting on the Macaulay campaign website read. “Throughout his journey, Kody remains dedicated to supporting and defending the rights of his family, neighbors, and country.”

Macaulay’s campaign said he would push for reproductive freedom, protections for Social Security, Medicare and veterans and rights for the LGBTQ+ community.

Brannon, the other Democrat in the race, said she would reverse tax cuts for the wealthy, stop cuts to Medicare and Social Security and honor veterans. “Medicare cannot negotiate cheaper lifesaving prescriptions,” Brannon’s campaign website said. She also called for legislation to make insulin affordable.

The state’s primary election is set for June 18. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Early voting — at each county’s election board office — is 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.

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