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Friday, October 01, 2004

Showdown in Oklahoma

Oklahoma, a red state if there ever was one, appears to be on the verge of electing a Democrat to the U.S. Senate for the first time in 10 years.

From the outside, this race should be a walk for the Republicans; while the Democrats still dominate the state legislature and control the governorship, the Republicans have had a lock on federal elections for quite some time. The GOP has held both Senate seats since 1994, they currently control 4 of the 5 House seats, and LBJ was the last Democrat presidential candidate to win the state. To top things off, President Bush's numbers here are stellar -- he has consistently been up 2-to-1 over Kerry, and polls show him leading Kerry 43-42% among Democrats. Despite this strength, it is very possible that the Republicans could lose this seat.

Retiring Sen. Don Nickels, Sen. Inhofe, former-Rep. J.C. Watts, and most of the GOP Establishment threw their support behind Kirk Humphreys, the mayor of Oklahoma City, to carry the GOP banner against Democrat Congressman Brad Carson. Unfortunately for them, former-Rep. Tom Coburn, an obstetrician by trade and a conservative malcontent by nature, stepped in and pummeled Humphreys in the primary. With momentum, some name recognition, experience, and that little (R) behind his name, Coburn seemed to be the perfect candidate to take on Carson -- a fairly popular guy in his own right -- but that is not the way things are turning out.

Despite Republican attempts to cast him as a liberal, Carson is a moderate Democrat by national standards, and he is running as a conservative. He is part Cherokee (although you could not tell by looking at him), which is a benefit in this state with its large Indian population. Carson's reputation is one of being a very savvy, thinking candidate who never loses his cool. Coburn, on the other hand, is a flaming conservative populist who, while intelligent, is apt to say what he thinks and let the chips fall where they may. Coburn has a definite constituency in this conservative state, but his "no compromise" reputation has hurt him among those in the business community who are scared that he will continue to fight against pork-barrel projects like he did when he was in the House.

While Coburn had the momentum heading into the general, it has been rapidly dissipating due in part to his own comments. Coburn has recently referred to the state legislators as "the crapheads in Oklahoma City," has stated that his race against Carson is a case of "good vs. evil," and has called for the death penalty for doctors who perform abortions. More troublesome, however, have been recent allegations that he has engaged in Medicare fraud and that he sterilized a woman without her consent.

Bush's huge lead (26%) over Kerry simply has not translated into downticket support, which forces Coburn to work for his voters (recent polls indicate that 24% of Bush supporters are planning to vote for Carson). Recent polls show the race in a statistical tie, but Carson is picking up steam every week. If Coburn cannot overcome his bad press and reclaim the momentum, we could be coloring at least one Oklahoma Senate seat blue for some time.
Centinel 3:43 PM #


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