Two political pros are going at it in the race to elect a new governor. No, not just Mary Fallin and Jari Askins. The campaign managers for the two candidates have a wealth of political and election experience, intensifying the high-stakes game to control Oklahoma’s top state office.
Denise Northrup of Oklahoma City has been at Mary Fallin’s side for more than 15 years, including several election campaigns. Lawton’s Sid Hudson is spending his first campaign with Askins, but has been involved in politics for more than two decades. They come from different backgrounds and have varying experiences with elections, but both are well skilled to run campaigns.
Northrup got her start in politics working on Jim Inhofe’s famous 1994 run for the U.S. Senate. A member of the U.S. House of Representatives at the time, Inhofe was considered the underdog to fellow Oklahoma Congressman Dave McCurdy when the race started. But by that November, Inhofe pulled off a convincing victory.
“I worked in Tulsa as a typical grunt, lackey, low-paid, overworked staffer,” said Northrup, now sitting in her own office at Fallin’s campaign headquarters in Oklahoma City. “Couldn’t have had a better race to start a political career. I worked with a lot of great people. It was such a neat race to be involved in. That is definitely what got me hooked in campaigns.”
A product of Jenks High School, Northrup was fresh out of college from the University of Kansas when she joined the Inhofe campaign.
“It was the beginning of the revolution in Oklahoma,” she said. “When you can get Little Dixie (Southeast Oklahoma) to support a candidate like Jim, that’s when we knew change was coming in politics to Oklahoma.”
Inhofe’s victory was so sound, he even won in McCurdy’s backyard of Cleveland County. That year, Republicans made huge gains, especially in statewide offices, including governor, lieutenant governor, labor commissioner and insurance commissioner. The Oklahoma GOP also took five of the six congressional seats that were available at the time (Oklahoma now has five congressional seats). Before 1994, they held only two.
But the main thing Northrup learned from the ’94 Inhofe campaign: “I don’t want to fly with Inhofe in a plane.”
A pilot, Inhofe has had more than one crash while at the helm.
Hudson’s career didn’t start out in politics like Northrup. He was a journalism teacher and high school track coach in Lawton. While being politically astute, Hudson’s only brush with politics was hanging up signs for candidates.
“I was encouraged by my wife and others to run for the (state) House,” he said. “I had always been interested in politics “¦ but never really thought about being a candidate.”
In 1986, Hudson drove up to Oklahoma City and filed to be a candidate of the state House of Representatives. After winning his first election, Hudson remained in the state House for two more terms before deciding that was enough. But during his six-year stint, Hudson was involved in two of the biggest political events in state history: the ousting of Speaker of the House Jim Barker and the passage of the massive education reform package, House Bill 1017.
“I enjoyed it immensely,” Hudson said, “lots of fun things. I treasured serving with Henry Bellmon as governor. I quote him often.”
Upon leaving the Legislature, Hudson spent most of the following years crafting and implementing education policies with the State Department of Education and the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. He continued to help out a few campaigns, mainly state ballot questions dealing with education.
Leaving the higher regents office, Hudson went over to the state Senate and worked for Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Morgan. Then Askins made the phone call.
“Jari came to me and said, ‘I would really like you to do this,'” he said. “I was like, ‘Are you sure?’ She is pretty persistent and pretty persuasive. It kind of dovetailed to where I was retiring.”
Hudson is heaping praise for Askins’ upset victory over Drew Edmondson for the Democrat governor nomination last week. In one of the closest elections ever for governor, Askins won the race by less than 1 percent.
Northrup and Fallin have been a winning team for many years. Northrup ran Fallin’s first re-election campaign for lieutenant governor in 1998, as well as Fallin’s first run for Congress in 2006.
While serving Fallin in office as well as the campaigns, Northrup prefers election work.
“There are campaign people, and then there are office workers, and I would always rather be on this (election) side,” she said. “It’s the game. The competition. I’m a competitive person. Ask my husband or my son when we play Scrabble. It gets pretty ugly.”
It’s the opposite for Hudson. In fact, Hudson calls people who run campaigns for a living “a little bit nuts.”
“I’m a teacher and a coach,” he said. “That’s who I am. I really like policy.”
Hudson said running a campaign is vastly different from helping to pass legislation.
“This (campaign) is much harder because in the legislative side of things, you have a better chance to fully explain your issues. What makes it difficult in a campaign is everybody wants it fast and quick. I really thought in the last few days and hours (of the primary) I might have messed this up. But the candidate overcame her manager.”
And if Askins wins? “Let’s just say I will not be doing the re-election campaign. This is a young person’s game. I’m 56 now.”
For the record, Northrup is 38 and said she has not thought about whether she would work for Fallin in the governor’s office. “Scott Cooper
top photo Denise Northrup. Photo/Mark Hancock
bottom photo Sid Hudson. Photo/Scott Cooper