Rep. Tom Cole (R)
Oklahoma 4th District
In the years after 1900, the brown hills west of Oklahoma City and north of the Red River suddenly filled up with farmers riding north from Texas, past the quenched green lands of the east toward the bare pasture lands of the west. The first settlers here arrived just as the buffalo were dying out, from an estimated 60 million animals to no more than 1,000. So in 1901, Republican President William McKinley established the nation’s first wildlife preserve in the Wichita Mountains, 25 miles northwest of Lawton. Fifteen bison were donated by the New York Zoological Society and arrived at the preserve via rail in 1907—a major factor in the survival of the species. Today this habitat supports grazing for Rocky Mountain elk, white-tailed deer and Texas longhorn cattle. Government has played a role in the survival of the people, too. Population in southwest Oklahoma clusters around major government institutions: the state capital in Oklahoma City; the University of Oklahoma in Norman, which was the world’s first school of petroleum geology; Tinker Air Force Base in southern Oklahoma City; the Army Field Artillery School at Fort Sill in Lawton. Sill also is the new home of the Army Air Defense Artillery School, which was relocated from Fort Bliss, Texas.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 4th Congressional District of Oklahoma begins a few miles from the capitol in Oklahoma City, smack dab in the middle of the state, and proceeds south and west to cover half of Oklahoma’s Red River Valley. Demographically, this district is becoming more suburban, but the cultural tone remains countrified. That is true even in the Oklahoma City suburbs, where in new subdivisions people still prefer chicken-fried steak to stir-fried chicken and watermelons from Rush Springs. Ancestrally, this is Democratic country, but Norman, Lawton and the Oklahoma City fringe have voted solidly Republican since the 1990s.
Rep. Tom Cole (R)
Elected: 2002, 4th term.
Born: April 28, 1949, Shreveport, LA .
Education: Grinnell Col., B.A. 1971, Yale U., M.A. 1974, U. of OK, Ph.D. 1984.
Family: Married (Ellen); 1 child.
Elected office: OK Senate, 1988-91.
Professional Career: OK GOP Chmn., 1985-89; Exec. dir. NRCC, 1991-95; OK secy. of state, 1995-99; Pol. consultant, 2000-2002.
The congressman from the 4th District is Tom Cole, a Republican first elected in 2002 after a long career working for other politicians. With the retirement of Republican Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado in 2004, Cole became the only American Indian in Congress and a leading defender of Indian interests in Washington. He grew up in Moore, south of Oklahoma City and north of Norman. He is a fifth-generation Oklahoman, and his mother was a state representative and senator. He’s also a member of the Chickasaw Nation tribe; more than half of the nation’s Chickasaw Indians live in the district. Cole’s father served in the Air Force and later worked at Tinker Air Force Base. Cole graduated from Grinnell College, got a master’s degree at Yale University and a Ph.D. in British history at the University of Oklahoma, studying for a year at the University of London. From 1985 to 1989, he was the Oklahoma Republican Party chairman. In 1988, he was elected to the state Senate. He moved to Washington in 1991 to become executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee, then returned to Oklahoma and was appointed secretary of state, becoming the first Republican to hold that office. He went back to Washington to serve as the chief of staff for the Republican National Committee during the 2000 presidential campaign. During much of that period, he was also the president of a polling and political consulting firm in Oklahoma City.
|Tom Cole (R)||180,080||(66%)||($1,116,842)|
|Blake Cummings (D)||79,674||(29%)||($12,369)|
|David Joyce (I)||13,027||(5%)|
|Tom Cole (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (65%), 2004 (78%), 2002 (54%)
In 2002, Rep. J.C. Watts, a member of the House leadership as chairman of the Republican Conference, announced that he would not seek re-election. Cole moved quickly to run. Despite his party connections and an endorsement from Watts, he faced formidable opposition from attorney Marc Nuttle. The two shared positions on most issues and extensive party connections. Nuttle had been Cole’s predecessor at the NRCC, and had worked on Republican Pat Robertson’s 1988 presidential campaign. Nuttle and Cole also had worked together to pass an Oklahoma right-to-work law in a 2001 referendum. In the showdown between the strategists, Cole won 60%-33%. He had tough competition in the general election, from former state Senate Majority Leader Darryl Roberts, who appealed to the “yellow dog” Democratic tradition that is particularly strong in the Red River counties. Cole countered by linking Roberts to all of the past Democratic presidential nominees he had supported, and described him as “pro-tax,” “pro-abortion” and “pro-lawsuit.” Roberts had only limited national party support compared to Cole and Cole won 54%-46%.
In the House, Cole has a mostly conservative voting record. He began his House career on the Armed Services Committee, a seat of obvious importance to the district, before leaving the panel in 2005 to serve on the Rules Committee, which launched him on a career in leadership. He has been actively involved in issues related to American Indians and has urged tribal leaders to educate Americans about the importance of Indian sovereignty. In the wake of an influence-peddling scandal involving Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who represented several tribes, Cole strongly opposed proposed limits on the right of tribes to contribute to political campaigns. In 2008, he accused the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee of “legislative blackmail” for delaying an Indian housing bill unless a provision was added to punish the Cherokee nation for a long-running tribal conflict. As a member of the House ethics committee in 2005, Cole excused himself from a high-profile investigation of Majority Leader Tom DeLay to avoid an appearance of impropriety; he had previously contributed to DeLay’s legal defense fund.
Following the dismal 2006 election for Republicans, Cole was elected by his peers to be chairman of the NRCC, the fifth-ranking GOP leadership job and one that put him in charge of national Republican efforts to regain the party’s majority in the House in 2008. Cole defeated Texan Pete Sessions, 102 to 81, to take over the committee, where he’d cut his teeth as a political strategist years before. He vowed to expand the playing field of competitive seats and proclaimed that 2008 “will be a year to hunt with a shotgun, not a rifle.” His initial targets were the 30 freshman Democrats who defeated or replaced retiring House Republicans in 2006, handing control of the chamber to the Democrats. “It’s hard to imagine a cycle that will be worse” than 2006, Cole said. But conditions got much worse, and his two-year chairmanship became a nightmare. “The hits keep on coming,” he lamented in May 2008, after Republicans in the prior two months unexpectedly lost three special elections for seats that had been held by prominent Republicans, that of former Speaker Dennis Hastert in Illinois, Richard Baker in Louisiana, and Roger Wicker in Mississippi.
Cole faced myriad problems: The party had had a rough transition to the minority after a dozen years in control, the committee was $19 million in debt, and there were an inordinate number of GOP retirements. Plus, the committee had a huge fundraising disparity with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Cole and the Republicans raised $116 million in the 2007-2008 election cycle, compared to $171 million for the Democrats. On top of all that the committee had internal problems, notably the discovery that its longtime treasurer had embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars. Retiring Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, a former NRCC chairman himself, circulated a memo warning that the party’s campaign apparatus was badly broken and its message “stale” and “obsolete.” But the biggest obstacle was largely out of Cole’s control: Bush’s abysmally low public-approval ratings, which made re-election an uphill climb for most Republicans, despite their efforts to distance themselves from the president.
Before long, the relationship between Cole and Minority Leader John Boehner deteriorated, with public sniping and second-guessing over who was to blame for the party’s failure to gain traction in House contests. Boehner believed that Cole’s top staffers at the NRCC were not sufficiently aggressive at fundraising and candidate recruitment. He created an advisory group to look over Cole’s shoulder at the committee. Even in the absence of a spiraling political decline, the two men might not have gotten along. Sessions, the man Cole defeated for the job, was a Boehner ally. And Cole had publicly backed Republican Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri over Boehner in the bitterly contested race for majority leader in 2006, an event that left long-lasting enmity among Republican colleagues.
The results of 2008 were disappointing for Cole, to say the least. Republicans lost rather than gained seats in the House, winding up at a 257-178 disadvantage. Nevertheless, after the election, Cole decided to seek re-election to another two years as NRCC chairman. He noted that the losses could have been considerably worse and that the party was well-positioned for gains in 2010. “House Republicans performed far better than expectations, holding losses down in what was the worst political environment many of us have ever experienced,” he wrote in a post-election memo to his colleagues. Once again, Sessions was seeking the post, with the active support of Boehner. Sensing he could well lose the showdown this time when the decision went to a vote by all House Republicans, Cole withdrew. In a gesture of conciliation, Boehner gave him a seat on the powerful Appropriations Committee in 2009.