Earth to disappointed Oklahoma Democrats: It’s all good.
Put those recriminations away. No one person or event can be blamed for the poor showing of Democratic state candidates in the Nov. 4 election. Keep your hopes alive. State Democrats are poised to make gains in the general election two years from now.
It’s not difficult to see why many state Democrats are bummed out: State Sen. Andrew Rice lost in his bid to unseat U.S. Sen. James Inhofe; Democrats Jim Roth and Charles Gray lost in their efforts to win seats on the Oklahoma Corporation Commission; Republicans won a slight majority in the state Senate and extended their majority in the House; U.S. Sen. John McCain won big in the state over President-elect Barack Obama; state Rep. Sally Kern, the Republican who crusades against homosexuality, was re-elected.
It’s also not difficult to see why some Oklahoma Democratic political activists are playing the blame game. Here are some of the narratives: It’s Oklahoma Democratic Party Chairman Ivan Holmes’ fault. It’s because the Obama campaign didn’t spend more money here. Oklahoma is filled with people who vote their prejudices before their economic interests. Individual campaigns should have made this move or that move.
The reality is that Holmes has done a solid and selfless job as chairman. And, who can really say the lack of interest in Oklahoma from the Obama campaign affected state races?
Oklahomans seem to be more influenced by cultural wedge issues than in other parts of the country, true, but this election tells us red states can go blue in one election cycle. Current events, timing, field operations, fund-raising, conventional wisdom versus risky strategies, these are components of all campaigns. It’s impossible to pick out one component or individual and place blame.
Democrats here have much to look forward to. The Republican Party will lose voters if it continues to embrace the rigid ideology of the religious right. Obama’s victory will surely mean better support for state Democratic operations in Oklahoma and elsewhere. If Obama becomes a great, unifying president, the Democratic brand will soar.
Despairing Democrats should look at the Oklahoma vote totals in perspective. Rice collected 527,569 votes. Obama collected 502,329 votes. So don’t feel alone. There are more than a half-million Oklahomans who share your basic political views. That number should grow as the Obama presidency creates a new appreciation and support of progressive policies.
Don’t forget Democratic Gov. Brad Henry can veto ideologically based bills Republicans are sure to offer next legislative session. If Democrats in the Senate and House stick together, the state can survive the next two years without irreparable damage to its image. As Republicans may propose a meaningless voter ID bill and perhaps push for guns on campuses, Oklahomans will realize how little these measures affect their day-to-day lives.
Oklahoma Democrats, hold your heads high. If you were one of the half-million or so Oklahomans who voted for Obama on Nov. 4, you were on the right side of history. The world knows it. Keep fighting.
Hochenauer is an English professor at the University of Central Oklahoma and the author of the progressive political blog Okie Funk: Notes From The Outback, http://www.okiefunk.com.