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Okla. voters deciding nominees for Nov. elections

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ADVANCE FOR SUNDAY, JUNE 24, 2012 - In this Wednesday, June 20, 2012 photo, Jim Bridenstine, candidate for U.S. House 1st District of Oklahoma in the Republican primary, speaks during a news conference in Tulsa, Okla. After several weeks of heated campaig

ADVANCE FOR SUNDAY, JUNE 24, 2012 - In this Wednesday, June 20, 2012 photo, Jim Bridenstine, candidate for U.S. House 1st District of Oklahoma in the Republican primary, speaks during a news conference in Tulsa, Okla. After several weeks of heated campaigning, Bridenstine and U.S. Rep. John Sullivan, the two Republicans vying to represent Oklahoma’s 1st congressional district, are making a last-minute push to try and convince voters each is the most conservative choice for the job ahead of Tuesday’s primary election.

Sue Ogrocki0, Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY — The race for eastern Oklahoma's U.S. House seat is drawing the most attention in Tuesday's primary elections, as Republicans focus on taking the seat held by retiring Rep. Dan Boren — the only Democrat in the state's congressional delegation.

Voters are selecting their nominees for the November general elections in numerous congressional and state legislative races, including three Republican congressmen who are facing challengers within their own party. Polls are open until 7 p.m.

Six Republicans and three Democrats are running in Boren's sprawling 2nd Congressional District, which is expected to be a top target of both parties this fall. Voter registration favors Democrats by a more than 2-to-1 margin in the district, which spans 26 counties in eastern Oklahoma, yet Republicans have consistently won there, especially in national elections.

Democrats had dominated Oklahoma politics since statehood until Republicans gained a majority in the state House in 2004 and the state Senate in 2008. Republicans currently have a 32-16 advantage in the Oklahoma Senate and a 67-31 edge in the House, where three seats are currently vacant.

"There's always that stigma about Democrats playing there (in Oklahoma). But at the same time, it's Dan Boren's seat, so it's definitely something we're watching and something we're paying attention to," said Stephen Carter, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Washington, D.C. "I think the Democrats that are running there fit the district profile."

In Claremore, Emily Sandusky, 20, said she voted for Republican Markwayne Mullin for the 2nd District seat. Sandusky, who works at a bank, said she's backing Mullin because of his conservative stance on issues such as abortion.

Also in Claremore, nurse Debbie Hendrix, 52, said she cast her ballot for Republican Dakota Wood. She said the economy was a key issue in deciding who to support.

"We need to make people work. That's one of my big things. Even if they're working at McDonald's," Hendrix said.

Another interesting dynamic is the rise of tea party-aligned candidates challenging incumbents, in many cases complaining that the GOP officeholder is not conservative enough.

Incumbent Republican U.S. Reps. John Sullivan of Tulsa, Frank Lucas of Cheyenne and Tom Cole of Norman are all facing primary challenges from fellow Republicans, as are more than a dozen Republican incumbents in the Oklahoma House and four in the state Senate. And many races have turned particularly bitter.

"Do I wince a little bit? Sure, but campaigns are about contrast, whether it's Republican versus Republican or Democrat versus Democrat," Oklahoma Republican Party Chairman Matt Pinnell said. "Certainly we don't like it to get too heated or too confrontational, but that's going to happen, especially in this environment."

In Tulsa, retiree Melvin Johnson, 94, said Tuesday that he voted for Sullivan in the 1st District race. He said he voted for the incumbent two years ago and he has "no complaints with the man."

Raymond Perkins, 90, a retired postal worker from Tulsa said he voted for Republican Jim Bridenstine, Sullivan's challenger.

"The other man's been in there too long," Perkins said. "Let's get some new blood in there and maybe finally get things done."

In the 4th District, Republican Vincent Vitale, 65, said he voted for Cole, saying the incumbent "seems to be a pretty honest guy."

Vitale said he's concerned with what he perceives as a loss of individual liberties.

"I don't want the government in charge," Vitale said. "I truly believe the private sector does a better job. People like free things but somebody has to pay for it, and that somebody is us. The taxpayers."

Democratic primaries will be held in the 3rd and 4th congressional districts, seats currently held by Lucas and Cole, respectively. There is no primary in the 5th District, which includes Oklahoma City.

In races for the state Legislature, the primary winners in 13 House races and four Senate districts will automatically win the seat since no members of the opposite party filed for the post.

The only statewide election on the ballot is a Republican primary for a six-year term on the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.

Associated Press writer Justin Juozapavicius contributed to this report from Tulsa and Claremore.