The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

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June 28, 2014

Okla. Democrats face added challenge of runoffs

OKLAHOMA CITY — Democrats in Oklahoma who already are facing an uphill battle against Republicans in this increasingly red state now are preparing for two more months of inner-party conflict in races for nominations in three major political contests.

Democratic candidates for an open U.S. Senate seat, open 5th District U.S. House seat and state schools superintendent all were forced into an Aug. 26 runoff when no one was able to capture a majority of votes in last week's primary election. Among those three races, Republicans only have a runoff in the 5th District, and no statewide runoffs.

While Democratic candidates and party officials are putting a positive spin on the opportunity that a primary runoff presents, it undoubtedly means pumping more money and resources into races that pit one Democrat against another, while the GOP queues up for what they hope will be another steamroll in November.

"Whether you're spending money on a runoff or getting ready for the general, you'd still be campaigning, getting your name out there, and spending money on ads," said Wallace Collins, chairman of the Oklahoma Democratic Party. "So in my opinion, it's not really a waste.

"(Republican candidates) got the spotlight for the primary, so some of these runoffs are an opportunity for these candidates to get an opportunity to shine for a moment or two."

While the Democratic Party controlled Oklahoma politics for nearly a century, Republicans have been making huge strides over the last few decades. The GOP now controls the state House (72-29), Senate (36-12), both U.S. Senate seats, all five U.S. House seats and every statewide elected office, including governor.

Of the nearly 2 million registered voters in Oklahoma, Democrats have just a 19,000-voter advantage over Republicans, an edge that could be wiped out before the end of the year.

In the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, state Sen. Connie Johnson of Oklahoma City received 44 percent of the vote and will face 79-year-old perennial candidate Jim Rogers of Midwest City, who received 35 percent. A third Democrat, Patrick Michael Hayes, whose biggest campaign expense was the $1,000 filing fee, received 21 percent of the vote.

"I wasn't in it to be a spoiler," said Hayes, who said his campaign consisted mostly of passing out handwritten flyers in the rural community of Anadarko. "Both of them prevented me from winning is what I'd say."

Rogers also hasn't launched a serious campaign, but Democrats have become familiar with his name, which has appeared on every statewide primary ballot more than a decade.

"We're taking it as we're still in the race," said Johnson, a pro-marijuana candidate who has made the legalization of cannabis an issue in her race. "We didn't get what we needed completely for the nomination. That just means we need to reach more people, and this runoff gives us an opportunity to do that."

Other Democratic runoffs include the state superintendent race, where Freda Deskin will face longtime educator John Cox, and the 5th District U.S. House race between state Sen. Al McAffrey and retired college professor Tom Guild.

"I think everybody is disappointed we didn't win out directly, but we're looking at the positive side," said McAffrey, of Oklahoma City.

A former police officer who became the first openly gay person to win a seat in the Oklahoma Legislature, McAffrey said this year's earlier primary date left him little time after the end of the legislative session to ramp up a campaign.

"We just didn't have enough time to do what we needed to do," McAffrey said.

Guild, who led McAffrey by 11 percent despite being outspent, said he's not disappointed to be in a runoff.

"We're ecstatic. We're thrilled. We bucked the political establishment and we beat him by 11.2 percent," Guild said. "State law says if no one gets a majority, we're in a runoff. That's just the reality."


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