By Hastings Wyman/Southern Political Report ~ With popular moderate Gov. Brad Henry (D) term-limited, both parties in Oklahoma are engaged in lively primaries to choose a nominee for governor. There is a competitive race on the Democratic side; in the Republican Primary, however, popular US Rep. Mary Fallin is a heavy favorite. Voters will go to the polls on July 27, with runoffs – unlikely – if needed on Aug. 24.
The Democratic contest between Lt. Gov. Jari Askins and state Attorney General Drew Edmondson could go either way. “Our polling has it pretty tight,” says Sooner Poll pollster Keith Gaddie, who is also a professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma. “It’s a two-point race.”
Edmondson is running on his experience, citing his record as Oklahoma’s attorney general. The main theme of his campaign is creating jobs (Oklahoma’s unemployment rate is 6.7 percent, not high by the 9.5 percent US rate, but worrisome nonetheless.) He has a geographical advantage, coming from the eastern part of the state, where there are lots of Democrats, while Askins comes from western Oklahoma, where Republicans prevail. Edmondson is a slight favorite to win the primary.
Askins, who could become the state’s first woman to hold the office of governor, is stressing her experience and the advantage it gives her in dealing with the state’s serious budgetary issues. She is also using her gender to boost her candidacy, targeting businesswomen in her fundraising efforts.
On the Republican side, Mary Fallin is a heavy favorite. Although the latest Sooner Poll found 43 percent of Oklahomans have a favorable opinion of the tea party, the poll gave Fallin a 59 percent to 10 percent lead over conservative state Sen. Randy Brogdon, who has the tea party’s endorsement.
Brogdon is going on television this week with ads attacking Fallin for voting for “the Wall Street bailout.” In a statement last week, Brogdon called Fallin (as reported by The McCarville Report Online) “a political diva… hiding behind the skirts of Sarah Palin and [Arizona governor] Jan Brewer.”
He also attacked Fallin for trying to get funds “earmarked” for her congressional district. (That, of course, is a two-edged sword: Many voters – even conservatives -- like federal largesse when it benefits their own communities.) Brogdon says he will continue his attacks until Fallin agrees to debate him.
While Fallin is answering Brogdon’s attacks, she is basically following a “make-no-mistakes strategy,” says Gaddie, “but she’s out there campaigning.”
So far, Brogdon has not made the liberal label stick to Fallin. Although her voting record in 2008 was a tepid-right 77 percent conservative, 23 percent liberal, says the National Journal, she has Sarah Palin’s imprimatur.
And on one high-profile issue, she voted against the Obama Administration’s healthcare plan, which 68 percent of Oklahoma voters favor repealing. Moreover, Brogdon crossed a line some months ago when he called for an Oklahoma militia in case the state needs to defend itself against federal encroachments on the rights of its citizens; the bombing of the Murrah Building in 1995 by a self-styled militiaman provided definite boundaries to the right-leaning views of Oklahomans.
“Only 13 percent of Oklahomans want to secede,” says pollster Gaddie, citing a Sooner Poll taken last year. Moreover, the closed primary – limited to registered Republicans – works in Fallin’s favor. Fallin is well-known and well-liked among Oklahoma Republicans, and angry conservatives registered as Democrats or independents are ineligible to cast a GOP primary ballot.
The General Election tilts strongly to the GOP, which would reclaim the Governor’s Mansion for the Republicans and – assuming Fallin is the nominee – make her the first woman governor in this state. (This is indeed the year of the woman in Southern politics, with strong female candidates for major statewide office in Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma and South Carolina.)
“This is a very, very difficult year for any Democrat in Oklahoma,” says political consultant Chad Alexander (R). “Obama lost every county – all 77 – in 2008, and he’s even more unpopular now.” Moreover, Fallin has won three statewide races for lieutenant governor, as well as carrying her own 5th District (Oklahoma City, etc.).
A July 7 Rasmussen survey showed Fallin with 48 percent to Edmondson’s 39 percent. That’s a solid lead, but a decline from Rasmussen’s February poll, which gave Fallin a 51 percent-36 percent lead. In the July 7 survey, Fallin led Askins by 55 percent to 32 percent.
Photo courtesy Jason Bondy