Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

While most eyes will be fixed on Virginia’s Fifth Congressional District Republican primary Tuesday night, there’s another high-stakes GOP race that could massively shake up the GOP conference in Oklahoma.

Rep. Tom Cole, the newly minted chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, is facing a tough primary challenger in Paul Bondar, a former player for the Dallas Cowboys who has largely self-funded his campaign and is running on an anti-government spending platform.


Cole, a two-decade veteran of the lower legislative chamber who has spent a better part of his tenure working his way through the ranks of the Appropriations Committee to its top spot, is well acquainted with keeping account of political cash. And, as it stands now, more than $8 million has been spent on the GOP primary in Oklahoma’s 4th, making it one of the most expensive primaries this cycle.

There’s an old saying in Washington: There are Republicans, there are Democrats, and then there are appropriators. Cole may be known as a Republican, but, after 15 years on the appropriations committee and ever-growing distaste among GOP representatives and their constituencies for the appropriation’s status quo, Bondar is about to put that insider adage to the test.

Nevertheless, Cole has been an effective member of the Appropriations Committee for his district—a major advantage of being an appropriator is having a major say over how, and more importantly where, government dollars are spent. During his time in Congress, Cole has directed ample amounts of funds to his districts universities, hospitals, transportation infrastructure, and beyond. 

“It’s surprising that he would draw an opponent, because the opportunity for the Fourth District to have someone like Tom Cole in this position and authority might never happen — and if it does, it’s once every 50 or 75 years,” University of Oklahoma President Joseph Harroz Jr. told the New York Times. In the previous appropriations fight, Cole managed to direct $108 million to the university.

Which is why Cole is still largely expected to prevail. 


Beyond that, Bondar only recently became a resident of Oklahoma and still spends much of his time in Texas. In a recent interview with KFOR, a local television station, KFOR reporter Spencer Humphrey asked Bondar whether he was taking the interview from Texas or Oklahoma. “I’m in an office right now,” Bondar said, before Humphrey forced the candidate to admit that he was, indeed, in Texas. 

“[Cole’s] biggest knock on me is the fact that I haven’t been in Oklahoma for a little while,” Bondar claimed, according to the New York Times. “But his biggest knock on him is his record, and that’s what people are looking at. And he can’t buy his way out of his record now that he’s House Appropriations chair. It doesn’t work to try to buy your way off and say, ‘We’re going to give some money now to some different places.’”

Cole has responded by boasting his endorsement from former President Donald Trump and that his chairmanship is a plus, not a minus, for his constituents. “The district has seen me be pretty effective over the years; this position puts me in a stronger position that way,” Cole said, per the New York Times.

If Cole prevails on Tuesday, he’ll be safe come November—whether the primary challenge compels Cole to make good on the GOP’s promises regarding the appropriations process will be something to watch out for this fall.