Everyone knows the contemporary story of the addict who bottoms out only to find recovery and redemption later.
In statewide race after race, Oklahoma Democrats bottomed out in the Nov. 2 elections, but at this low point, there remains for them an opportunity to re-create their brand. Sometimes it takes a breakdown
Nationally, this was a bad election year for Democrats, but the slaughter here goes beyond conventional political arguments. There should be no denial: The carnage was as horrible as many state Democrats could have imagined.
Immediate election results showed Democrat Jari Askins lost by more than 20 percent of the vote to Republican opponent Mary Fallin in the governor’s race. So it went. Democrat Kenneth Corn lost by a staggering 31 percent to Republican opponent Todd Lamb in the lieutenant governor’s race. Democrat Jim Priest lost by 30 percent to Republican opponent Scott Pruitt in the attorney general’s race.
Democrats lost every single statewide race in the 2010 midterm election. Republicans extended majorities in the Oklahoma House and Senate. All state government problems are now Republican problems.
One of the main questions vexing Democrats here is straightforward: Is it possible to win elections by appropriating the language of Republican opponents?
At the top of the ticket, Askins set the tone with one of her first advertisements, arguing she was an “Oklahoma conservative,” a statement that seemed almost perfectly designed to deflate a section of her base. Askins said she would vote for a state question that would allow the state to opt out of the new federal health care program. She claimed herself to be a workhorse.
Fallin ran as the überconservative. She, too, said she would vote for the opt-out question. No one, she said, would work harder for Oklahoma.
Whether or not Askins was the wrong candidate to face Fallin is irrelevant. Would Drew Edmondson, whom Askins beat in the primary, have been a better candidate? Political strategists would have probably pushed him to run as a conservative as well.
The problem with the language-appropriation strategy seems apparent: It’s not working. It sidelines Oklahomans who identify as liberals or progressives. It’s also wrong for the future. How many young liberals in Oklahoma feel disenfranchised from the political process here? Is this the way to build the Oklahoma Democratic Party’s future?
Some local bright spots for Democrats included state Sen. Andrew Rice’s and state Rep. Al McAffrey’s trouncing of their opponents in Oklahoma City races. Democratic newcomer Emily Virgin captured a House seat in Norman. In a nonpartisan race, Cindy Truong won a district judge seat in Oklahoma County, bringing diversity to the bench.
But to describe the election as anything less than a massacre for Democrats is not helpful. The message is clear for them: You’ve hit a new bottom. It’s recovery and redemption time.
Kurt Hochenauer is an English professor at the University of Central Oklahoma and the author of the Okie Funk blog.