Throughout his tenure in the governor’s office, Brad Henry kept to one mantra when it came to politics: It’s all about building a state, not a party. In previous election cycles, when Democrats were desperate for their highest-ranking member to spread the wealth of his popularity and help his party brethren get elected, Henry stood off to the side and continued his mantra.
Now Henry is spending a considerable amount of time and energy helping Democrats get into office.
“He realizes the importance of Democrats taking back the Oklahoma House and Senate during his last two years in office,” said Ivan Holmes, chairman of the Oklahoma Democratic Party.
Henry’s high approval ratings have provided both a launching pad and safety net for the governor’s initiatives. Has not using that goodwill cost his party? Two years after taking office in 2003, the Democrats were on their way to losing control of the House for the first time in 80 years. And while Henry was coasting to re-election victory in 2006, his party slipped a few more legislative seats away. The result was a split Senate, with Republicans getting to share power with the Democrats.
This year, the GOP is in prime position for total control of both the House and Senate. That scenario could put Henry on the defensive during the remaining two years of his last term.
“He may be looking at the Senate and looking at two years of not getting much done,” said political analyst Scott Mitchell on why Henry is out and about.
But even before the fall campaign season was underway, Henry already made one move that took political observers by surprise. During the intense presidential primary battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, Henry came out and endorsed Obama. Just the fact that Henry was endorsing any candidate for the summer convention was a shock, but not supporting the candidate who won Oklahoma’s February primary may have been the bolder move.
With the election just days away, the governor is spreading his bag of voter persuasion to several candidates, including two Democrats for statewide office.
Earlier this month, Henry sent out a letter urging support and donations for state Sen. Andrew Rice in his bid for the U.S. Senate against longtime incumbent James Inhofe.
Henry is also helping the man he appointed to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission a year ago, Jim Roth. The Democrat is in a tight contest with Republican Dana Murphy for the seat.
“He’s come to Shawnee, he’s come to Tulsa, he’s done other events for us,” Roth said. “He promised me that he would.”
Henry is certainly accustomed to winning, but the transmission of the governor’s popularity to Democratic victories remains unseen.
“I don’t know how well Brad Henry can take his effectiveness to other candidates,” Mitchell said. “It might be a dud or if he shakes a lot of hands, it might be something. It certainly introduces a wild card into the race that hadn’t been factored in.” “Scott Cooper