James Davenport was just three votes shy of winning the Republican nomination for a state Senate seat outright. Instead, he is out “sweating like a pig” again trying to secure that spot.
The race for Senate District 44 in south Oklahoma City is one of the hotter campaigns this year in Oklahoma, and not just because it’s summer. The seat opened up when incumbent Sen. Debbe Leftwich, a Democrat, announced she would not seek another term.
Five Republicans and one Democrat filed to fill the office in June, although one Republican later dropped out of the race. On primary night, Davenport received 1,239 votes, or 49.94 percent, just short of the more than 50 percent majority needed to avoid a runoff.
“On one hand, you feel really good that the voters were clearly indicating they were responding to the message of my campaign ” the issues that I was talking about,” Davenport said. “In my mind, they indicated a clear preference for this race. I was 12 percent higher than my closest opponent.”
That would be Ralph Shortey, who earned 941 votes, or 37.93 percent.
“The slim margin surprised me a bit, but I kind of figured we would be in a runoff, even though I was outspent tremendously,” Shortey said. “I knew we were going to be in a runoff, I just didn’t know it was going to be that tight.”
Davenport raised more than $7,500 for the primary, while Shortey gathered more than $5,500.
The runoff race set for Aug. 24 pits two opponents who are not new to politics. Davenport, 41, ran for the same office in 2003 during a special election, and worked for two other elected officials, former Congressman Ernest Istook and former Oklahoma County Commissioner Stan Inman. Shortey, 28, has volunteered for the past decade on numerous campaigns around the state.
Davenport believes his experience will stand out in the race.
“It’s important for south Oklahoma City that we have someone who can walk into the Legislature and from day one be a leader for our community and the values of this district, who is not going to be asking for directions from everyone under the sun,” he said. “I don’t think someone whose only perspective on the issues is from a political campaign is someone who is going to have a well-rounded perspective in addressing these issues.”
Shortey thinks coming across as a public servant rather than a politician will win the day.
“When I look at the big picture of politics, as a voter and a guy who lives in this district, I was just put off by the typical politician, the kind of guy that stays in office,” he said. “I’ve been a part of clubs, groups and several things with campaigns as well as organizations, and we’re just looking for someone who understands that as a public servant, you are a servant first. Our desires and principles should come first. I just don’t think that has been the case for a very long time in our district, especially on the illegal immigration front.”
The winner of the runoff will face Democrat Randy Rose in November.
top photo James Davenport
bottom photo Ralph Shortey photos/Mark Hancock