Wednesday, August 19, 2009

SPR: Boren Challenge A Non-starter?

By Hastings Wyman/Southern Political Report ~ “I think they’re whistling Dixie” says veteran Oklahoma political journalist Mike McCarville about the GOP’s targeting of three-term US Rep. Dan Boren (D) in Oklahoma’s 2nd District (Muskogee, etc.). McCarville, who writes “The McCarville Report,” points out that the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) targeted Boren based on McCain’s strong showing (66%) in the district, “but Boren carried the district by even more (73%).”

University of Oklahoma political scientist Keith Gaddie echoes this sentiment.
“If (US Rep.) Tom Cole (R-OK) was still running the NRCC, he would tell them not to bother.”
Gaddie points out that some 40% of the registered Democrats in the state are in the 2nd district, which encompasses the area known as “Little Dixie;” moreover, it is the fourth poorest rural congressional district in the United States, so it is especially prone to vote Democratic during economic recession.

Oklahoma Democrats are confident that Boren will win.
“Boren really listens to the needs of the 2nd District,” says Karina Henderson, communications director for the state Democrats. “They are very satisfied with him.”
Boren’s strength has several sources. For starters, he comes from a high-profile political family. His father served as Oklahoma’s governor and US Senator, and is currently president of the University of Oklahoma.
For a Democrat, Congressman Boren has a strongly conservative record. As of 2006, the National Journal rated him an average of 49% liberal, 51% conservative. He is a member of the Blue Dogs group of right-leaning Democrats, is on the board of directors of the National Rifle Association, and in 2008 declined to endorse Obama. Moreover, Boren has a whopping $1.2 million in his war chest, while none of his opponents has demonstrated any significant fundraising ability.

But Gaddie doesn’t think the GOP is totally off the wall in targeting Boren. “The reason the NRCC is targeting the district is to keep Dan Boren and the other Blue Dogs honest,” i.e., to keep the pressure on Boren and others so that they don’t back all of Obama’s liberal domestic initiatives.

Despite the widely held perception that Boren is unbeatable, five candidates are competing for the Republican nomination to oppose Boren next year. And while none are A-list -- i.e., have the sort of political experience and/or financial prospects that make for a winning candidate -- it is a sign of deeply held resentments here about the Obama Administration and its policies that five upstanding citizens are challenging the incumbent Democrat.
Moreover, there is some evidence that they have already had an impact on the strong-as-onions Boren. He has now decided he will hold a town hall meeting, where health care will be the hot topic. This after one of the GOPers, Dan Arnett, blasted Boren for planning to have a “phone-in” meeting rather than come face-to-face with voters on the issue. Arnett planned to hold his own meeting in front of one of Boren’s district offices.

The five candidates, all of whom espouse a conservative viewpoint, include:

Dan Arnett, 25, was born and raised in Henryetta in the district. He earned a bachelor’s degree in history and political science at Oklahoma Christian University, where his studies included a semester in Vienna, Austria. He is now in his final semester of law school at Drexel University. He has worked with the Public Defender’s Association in Philadelphia and with the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office. Arnett filed with the FEC on April 30, but has not yet filed a financial report.

Dan Edmonds was born and raised in the district, where his family was involved in the horse and cattle business. He has a master’s degree in agriculture and is working on his doctorate from Oklahoma State University. He served as an intern on farm policy with several state and federal lawmakers and has traveled around the world working with local farmers on agricultural practices. He is active in church and civic affairs. He filed with the FEC on August 7.

Bert Fisher was raised in Tulsa, received a bachelor’s degree in engineering from West Point, and served in Vietnam. After receiving an MBA from Ohio State University, he returned to Oklahoma, where he has worked in finance, manufacturing management, petroleum engineering, and sales engineering. He has not yet filed with the FEC.

Howard Houchen recently completed a 1,100-mile meeting, greeting and speaking tour of the district. He is a small businessman (All American Garage Doors, Inc.) and contributing writer to several conservative publications. He also served on the Hugo City Council. He was raised in the district and in Asia, where his stepfather worked for a US oil company. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Oklahoma and a master’s in National Security Studies from American Military University. Houchen has filed with the FEC, but as of July 7, had not raised the $5,000 minimum that requires a financial report.

Charles Thompson is a veterinarian who was born and raised in the 2nd District. He served in the military. Although he has not formally entered the race, he is appearing around the district.

“These have stepped up on their own,” says Oklahoma Republican state chairman Gary Jones; “They were not recruited.” Jones noted that they are all well-educated “and are people that could truly represent the district.” He added that the party is “not actively out there” looking for other challengers, although the NRCC has indicated that it is talking to other contenders.

A potential sixth contender, state Rep. Tad Jones (R), a six-term legislator who is term-limited in 2010, is not expected to run. Jones would have brought some political heft to the race, although he would still have been an underdog to Boren.

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