POLITICS: Campaigns

Red-meat Millennial: This 27-year-old state rep wants to become the youngest member of Congress

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Congress,Oklahoma,2014 Elections,Campaigns,James Lankford,Elections,Blake Seitz

Oklahoma state Rep. Mike Turner, R-Edmond, is conservative, involved in his community and well-educated in electrical engineering.

He's also just 27 years old.

While his age cohort is liberal and increasingly unmoored from traditional institutions, Turner is running for the House of Representatives in Oklahoma's 5th Congressional District as a rock-ribbed conservative -- "blending elements of Goldwater* and Reagan," he says.

If he is successful, he will become the youngest member of Congress by four years, replacing Rep. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who's a wizened 31.

It will not be an easy race to win. Turner faces stiff competition from five Republican challengers in Tuesday's primary election. His opponents include the Oklahoma corporation commissioner, three state legislators (one of whom has a serious military background) and a former congressional aide. All of the candidates bill themselves as the true conservative in the race.

Turner faces an uphill battle to earn one of two spots in the all-but-inevitable August runoff, the winner of which is likely to be elected in November.

Veteran Oklahoma watchers predict Turner will place third behind Corporation Commissioner Patrice Douglas and retired Army Lt. Col. Steve Russell. A poll released Sunday found Douglas in first with 22.5 percent, Russell in second with 18.9 percent and Turner in third with 13.1 percent, although 25 percent of those polled were undecided.

But he's done it before: In 2012, Turner toppled four-term incumbent Guy Liebmann to earn a spot in the state legislature. He won with 55.79 percent of the vote.

"We communicated a message of new ideas, fresh energy and strong conservative leadership," Turner said after his victory. "It was a message the people embraced."

“We communicated a message of new energy, fresh ideas and strong conservative leadership,” said Turner, in a statement. “It was a message the people embraced and one I plan to deliver on in office.” - See more at:
“We communicated a message of new energy, fresh ideas and strong conservative leadership,” said Turner, in a statement. “It was a message the people embraced and one I plan to deliver on in office.” - See more at:

Of course, he also outspent Liebmann $59,073 to $43,895.

That bring us to Turner's second advantage: very deep pockets. Turner has poured $625,000 of his own fortune -- derived from a stake in the family business and small enterprises of his own -- into the race, and family members have spent an additional $135,000 on advertising through a super PAC, the Democracy Values Fund.

By comparison, Turner's best-funded opponent, Douglas, has raised $558,874.

If elected, Turner would be the wealthiest member of the Oklahoma congressional delegation. His assets are worth somewhere between $3.5 million and $13.7 million, a fortune which has allowed him to decline a public pension and pledge not to take money from "lobbyists and PACs." (Although, as noted earlier, he has benefited from the indirect blessings of a PAC.)

Turner has spent his one term in the state legislature earning a full vest of conservative merit badges.

His greatest coup was a bill to expedite the permitting process for guns regulated under the National Firearms Act. When Republican Gov. Mary Fallin vetoed the bill, citing jurisdictional concerns, the legislature revolted. Fallin's veto was overridden, the first time in the state's history that a Republican-led legislature had bucked the veto of a Republican governor.

This episode was a boon to Turner's prospects -- not only did he take on the governor and win, he did it in service of a popular conservative cause, which may bolster his claim to being the race's true conservative.

Turner may also benefit from running in a congressional district that is young relative to the country. As of 2010, the median age in the 5th District is 34.6, while the median age in Oklahoma is 36.2 and the median age in the United States is 37.2.

It would be a mistake to lean on these numbers too much (notably, the under-18 population, which cannot vote, is included in those figures), but young adults may respond favorably to the energy of a candidate nearer their age.

*An interesting aside: While Turner claims the mantle of Goldwater, in an interesting twist at least one of the bills he sponsored in the Oklahoma state legislature was opposed by Goldwater's son, former Republican Rep. Barry Goldwater Jr. Goldwater, who co-chairs the advocacy group TUSK (Tell Utilities Solar won't be Killed) claimed the bill, which concerned the treatment of solar energy by utility companies, unfairly penalized solar energy; Turner responded that the bill merely offset the public subsidization of solar energy.

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Blake Seitz

Special to the Examiner
The Washington Examiner

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