OKLAHOMA CITY - A political science expert says an Oklahoma defeat defying expectations and history itself could be attributed to voter turnout and campaign energy.
On Tuesday night, Democratic challenger Kendra Horn upset Republican incumbent Rep. Steve Russell for Oklahoma's 5th Congressional District. Horn finished the race with 50.67 percent of the vote, compared to Russell's 49.33 percent.
Horn is the first Democrat to hold this seat in 44 years.
James Davenport, a professor of political science at Rose State College, said early campaigning was likely one of the "smartest things" Horn chose to do.
"Especially if you are a challenger, you can’t wait until the last minute so to speak or just decide on filing day, 'Oh, I’m going to do this,' because it takes a lot of infrastructure to put together a winning campaign," Davenport said. "She did a great job fundraising, a tremendous job fundraising, but that takes a lot of planning and a lot of effort to do as well. She obviously had a good operation, a good organization to get people out, to get her base excited and her voters excited about her possibly winning."
Davenport said voter turnout may have also played a role in pushing Horn across the finish line.
"It’s a little early to get a good breakdown of where that turnout came from, but it can’t be the only contributing factor because there was a high turnout across the state and for the most part, Republicans won most of their elections easily," he said. "Anytime there’s great energy and if there’s a candidate, we saw this with Barack Obama in 2008 and again in 2012, where they can attract a group of voters who typically have been less engaged. It can make a difference."
Davenport also noted a change in the District 5 demographic, and said that most analysts expected it to be more vulnerable in future election cycles.
"Going forward, she’s going to kind of have a narrow path to be successful in retaining this seat for a couple of cycles because it still is predominantly Republican, even though she won. She won by a very narrow margin and so what means is, she can’t move to the extremes of policy," he told News 4.
Appearing on CNN Wednesday morning, Horn credited her younger supporters.
"I think things are changing here. We had an amazing group of people that were involved. We really got a lot of young people involved and I think that that is one of the things that made a huge difference," she said. "We had a great group of fellows and getting those voices of young voters and engaging new people in this district really made a difference."
Horn spoke with News 4 at her victory party Tuesday night and told us the campaign was never about her. She ran two non-profits focused on encouraging women to run for office.
"It’s been about Oklahoma and what we need as a state and the important things that our communities are calling out for, and I think we heard their calls loud and clear tonight," she said.
Horn joins more than 90 other women securing seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, breaking the current session's record of 84 women.
Rep. Steve Russell's office released the following statement following Tuesday night's results:
"Colonel Russell thanks his supporters for their prayers, their tireless work and their commitment to the state of Oklahoma. Their willingness to take part in the process is a credit to their character and the country. Colonel Russell is heading back to Washington tomorrow and will continue serving for the remainder of his term. We are a great nation that is still worth fighting for."