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Observers have their eyes on gubernatorial, legislative races

The Journal Record

September 24, 2018

OKLAHOMA CITY – With candidates finalized, Oklahoma’s politicos are deciding which races will be worth watching over the next few months.

The race for Oklahoma’s open governor’s seat promises to be interesting. Less than two months before the election, SoonerPoll showed Republican Kevin Stitt and Democrat Drew Edmondson performing pretty closely: 46.6 percent of respondents favoring Stitt and 44.2 percent supporting Edmondson. Only 6 percent considered themselves undecided, with the remaining 3 percent going for Libertarian candidate Chris Powell.

Onlookers said that might be the only interesting campaign on a statewide level, but a few legislative races will likely be close.

Vickie White Rankin, a former Democratic lawmaker and current consultant, said major races such as that for state superintendent, lieutenant governor and labor commissioner probably won’t keep voters on the edges of their seats.

“Of all the statewide races, the only one that’s even close to competitive is the governor’s race,” she said.

However, two Senate races and one House race could be a different story, she said. The two Senate races will take place in northern parts of Oklahoma City and could turn two red seats blue. A House race in eastern Oklahoma could flip a longtime blue seat red.

Senate District 30 came up for grabs this year when Republican David Holt took office as the mayor of Oklahoma City. The district has an indescribable shape and covers several portions of the northwest Oklahoma City metro, including the Lake Hefner area, Bethany and The Village. Oklahomans for the Arts Executive Director Julia Kirt nabbed the Democratic nomination. Her Republican opponent is John Symcox, a community banker.

Senate District 40 opened when incumbent Republican Ervin Yen lost his re-election bid during June’s primary to Joe Howell, a veterinarian in Oklahoma City. That district covers a mostly square area in the northwestern part of the metro, west to Warr Acres and north to The Village. Howell will face former educator Carri Hicks, a Democrat, and Christopher Hensley, an independent.

“Holt’s seat and Yen’s seat are the ones to watch,” White Rankin said.

House District 15 is under the microscope for the opposite reason. Former Rep. Ed Cannaday, a Democrat, held the seat until he termed out this year. The district covers small towns in Muskogee and Haskell counties and Lake Eufaula.

“That’s kind of Little Dixies, strong democratic country,” White Rankin said.

Democrat Judy Ross Moore has raised about $8,000, and her Republican opponent, Randy Randleman, has raised about $18,000. Despite his political affiliation, White Rankin said Randleman has some potential in the district.

“He’s very conservative in some ways, but he’s strong on mental health and education,” White Rankin said.

Pam Pollard, the Oklahoma Republican Party chairwoman, also mentioned House District 15. She said that even ignoring fundraising, with a candidate of Randleman’s caliber, the party feels confident about that race.

“What absolutely will win a race is a good candidate,” she said.

The party is also eyeing that district’s southern neighbor, House District 17, for a flip. Incumbent Democrat Brian Renegar termed out this year to represent the area covering much of Latimer County, including Wilburton. Republican Jim Grego will face Democrat Peggy DeFrange.

“That’s Gene Stipe’s old stranglehold,” Pollard said. “We think we are going to do very, very well in those seats.”

The party also anticipates grabbing back a few seats it lost during the 2017 special elections, such as Rep. Jacob Rosecrants’ seat in Norman and Rep. Karen Gaddis’ seat in Tulsa. She said Democrats tend to overperform during special elections by upping their share of voter turnout.

Lastly, Republicans hope to nab some of the college-town seats that have been vacated, such as District 34 in Stillwater, which Rep. Cory Williams held but left to run for district attorney.

Pollard, like White Rankin, said the statewide seats other than governor will almost certainly go to Republicans, but said that might be by design.

“The Democrats have put their eggs in two baskets,” she said.

They’re working for the Governor’s Mansion and to steal legislative seats. Pollard said they will also need to work to keep the seats they have, many of which reside in areas that have a Democratic lawmaker but went red during the presidential election.

“The Democrats are going to have to work hard to keep what we’re calling the Trump-Democrat seats,” she said.

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