Tom Guild faces Al McAffrey in runoff election

Tom Guild faces Al McAffrey in runoff election
Al McAffrey on the Oklahoma State House of Representatives floor, 1-30-12. Mark Hancock

Tom Guild faces Al McAffrey in runoff election
Ed Bolt

Less than two years after three candidates campaigned for the Democratic nominee for Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District, the same trio of contenders was back on the June ballot.

As in 2014, Tom Guild and Al McAffrey earned the most votes, but neither secured more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary. In fact, the race was tight with McAffrey, the former state lawmaker, earning 10,013 votes. Guild, a longtime college professor, captured 10,000 votes and Leona Leonard, the former Seminole County party chair, received 7,190 votes.

Next week, Democrat voters in Oklahoma, Seminole and Pottawatomie counties will once again head to the polls and vote for their party’s nominee. Guild and McAffrey advanced to Tuesday’s runoff, as they did in 2014. In that contest, McAffrey won, but he lost in the November general election to Republican Steve Russell, a former state senator.

The winner of this month’s runoff will face Rep. Russell, R-Choctaw, who is running for a second term as congressman.

Voters who rely on candidate websites alone to pick a candidate might find it difficult to compare Guild and McAffrey on the issues, as both share common ground. The two back efforts to create jobs, bolster public education and improve military veterans’ care. Both assert they are staunch supporters of LGBT and women’s issues.

On the campaign trail, Guild and McAffrey touch on similar topics as voters express frustration over the economy. For young voters, college affordability and student debt relief are top issues.

“Voters are concerned about the growing college student debt crisis and the impact this has on students and their families,” said Guild, who is in his fourth campaign for the congressional seat. “Oklahomans are concerned about the growing inequality and disparity of wealth in our society. This makes the American Dream seem out of reach for far too many Americans.”

Both candidates mentioned the importance of opportunities.

“It is always the economy,” McAffrey said. “It always comes back to the economy, and that’s what I hear when I am on the trail. Their other concern is education. Young people are concerned about their college debt. I am concerned that our young people are going to be put in a place where they can’t find a job that would provide them a way to purchase a home. We can’t do that. We need to make sure our young people of today have all the opportunities we had.”

Politician vs. educator

While the candidates gravitate toward the same positions, their backgrounds sharply contrast.

Guild spent 27 years as a professor at the University of Central Oklahoma, followed by three years teaching at Oklahoma City University. He has taken aim at McAffrey’s missed votes as a state lawmaker, including the bill prohibiting cities from establishing their own minimum wage.

“I plan to be present and vote 100 percent of the time on issues coming before Congress,” said Guild, who counted hundreds of votes missed by McAffrey in the state Senate during the 2014 legislative session.

Guild bills himself as a candidate free of special interest money, unlike his opponent, he said. Guild connects with voters who want to see change in how the government is run.

“Since I have been an involved private citizen for many years, looking in on the political system from the outside, I have experienced the same frustration with government gridlock and the failure of Congress to address important issues that have a direct and significant impact on people living in my congressional district,” Guild said. “Voters are tired of Congress doing little except naming the local post office after one of their family members or big donors. I hope to restore a measure of confidence in our system of government during my time in office.”

In addition to his background as a small business owner, McAffrey brings state government experience to the seat. The father of three was first elected to the Oklahoma House in 2006. Later, he served as a state senator. When he first began at the Capitol, he consumed himself with meeting fellow lawmakers, Capitol staff and lobbyists. To push his priorities and legislation, McAffrey recounted his efforts to make friends and work toward common ground. It’s an approach he plans to take to Congress if elected.

“I’m a common-sense guy,” McAffrey said. “I’m one vote; that’s all I am. I will vote my conscience, and I will work for my constituents. You have to find people who are like you and are going to make a difference. Right now, the problem in Washington is that no one talks to each other. The Republicans are over here and the Democrats are over there … I dealt with that with the Oklahoma House of Representatives and the Oklahoma Senate, especially in the Senate.”

McAffrey promotes his government experience and points out that Guild has never been elected to office or worked in government at any level.

“You can teach the law and politics, but until you do it, you have no concept,” McAffrey said.

Democratic voters in Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District will have a chance to cast ballots Tuesday at their polling stations. Early voting is Thursday and Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at county election board offices.

Print headline: Congressional contenders, Tuesday’s runoff features two Democrats vying for a U.S. House seat.

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