Democratic Primary Voting

This map shows the breakdown of Democrat voting in Tuesday's presidential primary. Sen. Bernie Sanders won every county but Oklahoma and Osage. (Graphic by Nate Robson, Oklahoma Watch)

When we asked local legislators their opinion on Super Tuesday, state Rep. John Enns, R-Enid, called the presidential primary the nuttiest race he’s ever seen.

We agree with the lawmaker. And we were surprised that Bernie Sanders claimed a state that’s been called the reddest of the red (the conservative Republican shade, not the Communist variety) by such a wide margin.

Running against Barack Obama in 2008, Hillary Clinton earned a whopping 54.7 percent of the vote in Oklahoma compared to Obama’s 31.18 percent, beating the future president by more than 20 percent. That was before anyone heard of Benghazi or Hillary’s email controversy.

There were about 130,000 fewer Democrats in Oklahoma in 2015 compared to the 2008 election.

“A lot of Hillary’s vote just died,” said Keith Gaddie, chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Oklahoma.

In the 2016 primary, Oklahomans voted in record numbers. This time Clinton only took two counties and totaled just 41.5 percent, which was beaten by the Bern’s 51.9 percent.

Bernie and former President Bill Clinton did some hard campaigning in Oklahoma. Sanders visited the Woody Guthrie Center last month in Tulsa and used the Okemah populist’s iconic “This Land Is Your Land” as part of his campaign.

Sanders also advertised heavily and targeted independent voters via direct mail, urging them to vote in the Oklahoma Democratic ticket's open primary.

Sanders has described his brand of democratic socialism as creating government that works for everyone.

When CNN’s Brooke Baldwin recently asked Bernie’s supporters to describe socialism, some supporters had difficulty explaining, which was interesting. Still, Sanders’ message resonated with millennials and seasoned Okie liberals.

Is this turning into the People’s Republic of Oklahoma? No, but our state’s populism politics could help explain the shift. After all, Oklahoma’s state motto is “labor omnia vincit” (or “labor conquers all things”).

History buffs know that southern Democrats dominated state government as Oklahoma became a state in 1907. Circa 1914, the Socialist Party had the highest per-capita membership in Oklahoma, but those early 20th century socialists are long dead, too.

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