In politics, four years can seem like an eternity. But Republican Party leaders, who gained control of the Oklahoma Legislature four years ago, say they are still in their infancy to turn the state around.
“I legitimately feel it’s going to take a generation of GOP control to fix the problems we have inherited from [Democrats],” said Dave Weston, Oklahoma Republican Party chairman.
In 2010, Republicans won every statewide seat and won majorities in both the House and Senate. That’s not likely to change this election year, which might be less about Democrats versus Republicans and more about different types of Republicans battling one another for the heart and soul of Oklahoma.
This year’s biggest race for the party might be the U.S. Senate primary between U.S. Congressman James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, and state Rep. T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton. Several other Republicans are also in the race, but it’s Lankford and Shannon — two rising stars in the GOP — who have drawn the most attention.
“The focus is so much on the U.S.
Senate race,” said state Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond. “There is a lot of fascination because of who the candidates are, but also because of who they are replacing.”
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, announced he would leave the Senate following this year, which not only created a race for his seat but impacted several other federal and state races. Lankford’s decision to run for Senate left an opening in the 5th Congressional District (Central Oklahoma) that has drawn six Republican hopefuls, including Jolley.
Jolley, who serves as chair of the Senate appropriations committee, is considered one of the frontrunners in the 5th District, which includes Oklahoma City and its suburbs.
“This district is becoming more competitive [between Democrats and Republicans] compared to some of the other districts that are actually becoming more Republican,” Jolley said. “With the growth in the urban core of Oklahoma City, you are seeing more of an urban moderate voice that is coming out of that area.”
The 5th District has become more Democratic, although at a slow pace. In 2002, the Democratic candidate for Congress received 32 percent of the vote. In 2012, that share was 37 percent.
While central Oklahoma might be edging toward the left, Republican leaders don’t see the state in jeopardy of swinging back to Democrats anytime soon. With 73 percent of state lawmakers in the Republican party, the state has easily shifted to the right in recent years.
“The few surviving Democrats in the Oklahoma Legislature are not even backbenchers, rather more like interested observers,” wrote Oklahoma Observer columnist Richard L. Fricker earlier this year. “The absence of a viable Democratic alternative has encouraged the Republicans to go all out in bolstering their numbers even more by inviting the far right into their political tent.”
That’s not to say Republicans won’t have to battle to hold onto some seats. A few House and Senate districts in the Oklahoma City metro currently held by Republicans might be in play for Democrats. However, Republicans believe they can pick up a seat or two in some open races in a few rural districts.
“It seems to me that Democrats are giving up on the rural areas,” Weston said. “The national party’s view on homosexual marriage, on a baby’s right to life, on gun control don’t play well in rural Oklahoma.”
PRIMARY RACES TO WATCH
HOUSE DISTRICT 65
Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, leaves his post this year, and that could put a rural district in play for Republicans. Four Republican candidates will square off in the June primary, and party leaders view the seat as in play for the GOP. “We have some really good candidates in that race,” said Dave Weston, chair of the Oklahoma Republicans. “That will be a good bellwether to determine what course western Oklahoma continues to follow.”
SENATE DISTRICT 40
Senate District 40 in OKC is another district in which term limits will create an open seat. While this is a seat that Democrats are fighting to win, Republicans are confident they can retain possession. Six Republicans will be on the primary ballot, and they represent all points on the political spectrum. Michael Taylor is viewed by some as modern-day Republican, while Steve Kern lands on the far right.
5th CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT
Six Republicans are running for the 5th Congressional District: Steve Russell, Mike Turner, Harvey Sparks, Clark Jolley, Patrice Douglas and Shane Jett. Three are from Edmond, and two are from OKC. Gov. Mary Fallin is a former representative of the 5th District, and James Lankford hopes his time as a congressman will propel him to the U.S. Senate, thus the 5th District can be a launching pad for some.
The big Republican showdown this June will be between T.W. Shannon and James Lankford in a race to replace Sen. Tom Coburn. This primary battle has drawn a lot of out-of-state money, along with endorsements from national GOP leaders. With Lankford poised to grab the Central Oklahoma vote and Shannon a popular figure in rural Oklahoma, the winner might be the candidate who performs best in Tulsa.