United States Senate election in Oklahoma, 2004

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United States Senate election in Oklahoma, 2004

← 1998 November 2, 2004 2010 →
  Tom Coburn official portrait 112th Congress.jpg BradCarson OfficialPortrait.jpg
Nominee Tom Coburn Brad Carson Sheila Bilyeu
Party Republican Democratic Independent
Popular vote 763,433 596,750 86,663
Percentage 52.77% 41.24% 5.99%

County results

U.S. senator before election

Don Nickles

Elected U.S. Senator

Tom Coburn

The 2004 United States Senate election in Oklahoma took place on November 2, 2004. The election was concurrent with elections to the United States House of Representatives and the presidential election. Incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Don Nickles decided to retire instead of seeking a fifth term. Republican nominee Tom Coburn won the open seat.

Democratic primary



Democratic primary results[1]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Brad Carson 280,026 79.37
Democratic Carroll Fisher 28,385 8.05
Democratic Jim Rogers 20,179 5.72
Democratic Monte E. Johnson 17,274 4.90
Democratic W. B. G. Woodson 6,932 1.96
Total votes 352,796 100.00

Republican primary



Humphreys, the former Mayor of Oklahoma City, ran for the United States Senate with institutional conservative support, namely from Senators Don Nickles and Jim Inhofe, as well as former Congressman J. C. Watts. However, Coburn received support from the Club for Growth and conservative activists within Oklahoma. Humphreys noted, "[Coburn is] kind of a cult hero in the conservative portion of our party, not just in Oklahoma. You can't get right of the guy."[2] Much of Coburn's celebrity within the Republican Party came from his tenure in Congress, where he battled House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who he argued was moving the party to the center of the political spectrum due to their excessive federal spending.[3] Coburn's maverick nature culminated itself in 2000 when he backed conservative activist Alan Keyes for President rather than George W. Bush or John McCain.

Ultimately, Coburn triumphed over Humphreys, Anthony, and Hunt in the primary, winning every county in Oklahoma except for tiny Harmon County.


Republican primary results[1]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Tom Coburn 145,974 61.23
Republican Kirk Humphreys 59,877 25.12
Republican Bob Anthony 29,596 12.41
Republican Jay Richard Hunt 2,944 1.23
Total votes 238,391 100.00

General election



Carson and Coburn engaged each other head-on in one of the year's most brutal Senate contests. Coburn and the National Republican Senatorial Committee attacked Carson for being too liberal for Oklahoma and for being a vote in lockstep with John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, and Ted Kennedy. To drive the point home, one television advertisement aired by the Coburn campaign accused Carson of being "dangerously liberal" and not supporting the War on Terrorism.[4] Coburn was aided in this effort by the fact that the Kerry campaign did not contest the state of Oklahoma and that incumbent President George W. Bush was expected to win Oklahoma comfortably. This was compounded by the fact that Vice-President Dick Cheney campaigned for Coburn and appeared in several television advertisements for him.[5] Carson countered by emphasizing his Stilwell roots[6] and his moderation, specifically, bringing attention to the fact that he fought for greater governmental oversight of nursing home care for the elderly.[7] Carson responded to the attacks against him by countering that his opponent had committed Medicaid fraud years prior, in an event that reportedly left a woman sterilized without her consent.[8] Ultimately, however, Carson was not able to overcome Oklahoma's conservative nature and Senator Kerry's abysmal performance in Oklahoma, and he was defeated by Coburn by 11.5%. As of 2014, the result remains the closest the Democrats have come to winning a Senate election in Oklahoma since Republican Don Nickles was first elected to the Senate by 8.7% in 1980.


United States Senate election in Oklahoma, 2004[9]
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Republican Tom Coburn 763,433 52.77% -13.62%
Democratic Brad Carson 596,750 41.24% +9.97%
Independent Sheila Bilyeu 86,663 5.99%
Majority 166,683 11.52% -23.58%
Turnout 1,446,846
Republican hold Swing