Republican Mary Fallin may not like the role of early favorite in this year's historic gubernatorial race: Her Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Jari Askins, has come from behind to win her last two statewide contests.
Askins was able to beat the favorite in the 2006 lieutenant governor general election, partly by loaning her campaign $880,000 and energizing it by getting the endorsement of Gov. Brad Henry, so popular in the state that year that he won 67 percent of the vote in his re-election bid.
Tuesday, Askins was able to overtake Attorney General Drew Edmondson in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, partly by loaning her campaign $677,000. She also said former University of Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer helped her efforts with a late endorsement.
Fallin, the state's first woman lieutenant governor, and Askins, who succeeded her, are vying to become the first woman governor of Oklahoma.
Henry, who is prohibited from seeking a third term as governor, said last week he will be supporting Askins in the Nov. 2 general election. The governor said he would be making a more formal announcement later but that Askins "is an outstanding public servant and has been an invaluable partner in my administration."
"She's been through tough races," said Neva Hill, a political consultant. "She has the reputation ... of knowing how to put together a good ground game like she did four years ago."
It's doubtful Fallin will take her campaign for granted, despite early polling that suggest she has an advantage. Fallin witnessed the meltdown of Republican Steve Largent in the 2002 gubernatorial election, a race some of her supporters then said she should have sought.
Largent, the early favorite, lost in a three-way race to the underdog Henry, who seemed to pick up his campaigning efforts after Switzer endorsed him.
"We're looking at a classic Oklahoma election with the real swing voters being conservative Democrats," said Pat McFerron, director of survey research for Cole, Hargrave, Snodgrass and Associates, a group that handles Republican political campaigns. "If it had been Edmondson with the nomination, it would have been different. The Jari Askins supporters would have been in play, but the Drew Edmondson people will not flip to Mary."
Nearly 513,000 voters cast ballots in Tuesday's primary; it's expected about 1 million will vote in November.
"The key is that 400,000 to 500,000 people who did not vote in the primary," McFerron said. "The primary voters will line up behind their nominee. People who don't care enough to vote in the primaries, or have reason to, are the ones who decide the general election."
Fallin and Askins are tenacious campaigners and will go after those voters. Fallin has gone door to door seeking votes in her campaigns and Askins has traveled thousands of miles in the state campaigning, showing up as many political events as she can.
Both have latched onto the new social media. Messages are posted on Facebook by both candidates, and for a time last weekend both seemed to be giving hourly campaign updates on Twitter.
Fallin has won every elective office she has sought, going back to 1990. Askins stumbled in her first bid for elective office, but has won every race since.
Askins won 50.3 percent of the vote, or just 1,493 more votes out of 263,649 cast, in her win over Edmondson.
Ben Odom, a former state Democratic Party official, said Askins' surprise victory last week may allow her to continue her momentum. Edmondson coming out immediately to pledge to back Askins could also help.
Fallin won without a runoff in a four-way race, winning 54.8 percent of the vote. State Sen. Randy Brogdon, of Owasso, received 39.4 percent of the votes. Brogdon has not yet publicly endorsed Fallin.