By Sean Murphy
The Associated Press
The way Lt. Gov. Jari Askins and Attorney General Drew Edmondson greet each other with a smile and a friendly hug on the campaign trail, it’s difficult to tell the two are locked in a tight race for the Democratic nomination in Oklahoma governor’s race.
But these two Democratic heavyweights, both with lengthy resumes of political success, are abandoning relatively safe seats and slugging it out to become the nominee in the race to replace term-limited Democratic Gov. Brad Henry.
So far, the race has been cordial, and each says they hope it stays that way until the July 27 primary election, when one of these seasoned politician’s careers will come to an end.
“I think it’s very noteworthy that we’ve not had a contentious campaign,” said Tim Mauldin, a political science professor at Oklahoma City University. “My sense is that both candidates understand that whoever wins is going to have to have a united Democratic Party behind them.”
The winner will face whoever emerges from the GOP race among U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin, state Sen. Randy Brogdon and Oklahoma City businessmen Roger Jackson and Robert Hubbard.
While Askins and Edmondson remain friendly, they also have been working to define differences between themselves as the primary draws near.
They clearly differ on abortion — Askins says she is opposed to abortion, except in cases of rape, incest or if the mother’s health is at risk, while Edmondson’s position is to keep abortion “safe, legal and rare.”
Askins points to her experience working in all three branches of government — as a special district judge in Stephens County, a state House member for 12 years and in the executive branch as lieutenant governor. She also was a member of the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board before being elected to the House.
“I think my background is more diverse,” Askins said during a campaign event in Stroud. “My background is also the reputation for building consensus and solving problems.”
Edmondson also served in the Oklahoma House and worked for a short time as a teacher after returning from a tour in Vietnam, where he was stationed at Ton Son Nhut Air Base near Saigon from 1971 to 1972. Elected three times as Muskogee County District Attorney, beginning in 1982, he was elected attorney general in 1994.
Edmondson touts his record of accomplishments as attorney general, including his participation in a successful lawsuit against tobacco companies that resulted in millions of dollars for Oklahoma and a negotiated settlement with Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. in 2001 that netted $30 million for school technology improvements.
Edmondson also pushed successfully for a constitutional amendment to place an increasing percentage of the tobacco payments into a trust fund, where earned interest is dedicated to tobacco-cessation and other health programs.
“I don’t believe any other candidate ... can point to those kinds of accomplishments while engaged in public service,” Edmondson said while driving to a Cleveland County Democrats “Cornbread and Beans” luncheon. “When I talk about stimulating the economy and growing jobs, I’ve got a record of accomplishment in my record showing that I get things done.”
Edmondson has outpaced Askins in fundraising, amassing $2.1 million to Askins’ $1.2 million, according to the most recent Ethics Commission reports.
Edmondson’s television ads refer to his service in Vietnam and emphasize embracing Oklahoma’s energy industry and encouraging production of oil and natural gas, as well as alternative energy sources like wind, solar and biofuels.
Askins reaches out to women in one of her television spots, saying women in Oklahoma earn only 76 cents for every dollar that a man makes, and she will work to make sure women are paid fairly.
Geneva Williams of Stroud, who watched Askins drive by in a powder blue Ford Thunderbird convertible during a tribal parade, said she hasn’t made up her mind who she’ll vote for in next week’s Democratic primary, but said whoever is elected needs to focus on jobs and the economy.
“It’s definitely the economy,” Williams said. “It’s very tough on working families who are just getting by.”