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Oklahoma Rep. Mike Synar narrowly lost a Democratic runoff to a retired school principal who spent less than $17,000 on his campaign, making him the third House member defeated in primaries this year.
Synar, who was seeking a ninth term in yesterday's runoff, had a history of close races in northeastern Oklahoma's conservative 2nd district. He was seen as more liberal than the farmers and ranchers, who make up most of the rural district.
While 2nd district Republican nominee Tom Coburn sought to portray the stunning upset as a rejection of President Clinton's policies. Synar said the results were "a referendum on Mike Synar and not on Bill Clinton."
Washington's primary ballot included races to pick challengers for House Speaker Tom Foley and GOP Sen. Slade Gorton, whom Democrats consider vulnerable.
In other Oklahoma races, voters overwhelmingly approved a measure that will restrict U.S. representatives to three two-year terms and senators to two six-year terms.
And Democrats chose Lt. Gov. Jack Mildren over state Sen. Bernice Shedrick, 59 percent to 41 percent, in a gubernatorial runoff. Mildren, a former University of Oklahoma football star, will face Republican Frank Keating, a former Justice Department official, and independent Wes Watkins.
The biggest surprise was Virgil Cooper's upset victory over Synar. With all predicts reporting, Cooper had 47,798 votes, or 51 percent to 45,189 votes, or 19 percent for Synar.
Cooper--who said he spent just $16,900 on his runoff campaign, $2,000 of it from his own pocket acknowledged that some of his votes were protests against Synar.
The only other House members defeated in primaries this year were Reps. Craig Washington of Houston and Lucien Blackwell of Philadelphia. New York freshman GOP Rep. David Levy was trailing in unofficial returns but the race still had not been decided a weak after the Sept. 13 primary.
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