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Oklahoma's governor's race poised to be a 'classic'

Oklahoma elections: Mary Fallin has slight lead in governor's race, but it's not a sure thing
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Modified: August 2, 2010 at 10:04 am •  Published: August 2, 2010

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 beat the favorite in the 2006 lieutenant governor general election, partly by loaning her campaign $880,000 and getting the endorsement of Gov. Brad Henry, so popular in the state that year he won 67 percent of the vote in his re-election bid.

Tuesday, Askins overtook Attorney General Drew Edmondson in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, partly by loaning her campaign $677,000 and getting the endorsement of former University of Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer.

Fallin, the state's first woman lieutenant governor, and Askins, who succeeded her, are vying to become the first female governor of Oklahoma.

Henry, who is prohibited from seeking a third term as governor, said last week he is supporting Askins in the Nov. 2 general election. The governor said he would make 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."

Swing votes

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."

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