Experience trumped partisan politics in the race for Oklahoma County sheriff.
Democratic incumbent John Whetsel won his fifth term of office Tuesday, defeating Republican challenger Darrell Sorrels, 163,839 to 89,352.
At 65 percent, it was Whetsel's largest margin of victory in 16 years of campaigns.
“I think the issue that really attracted the voters was, one, the professionalism of the sheriff's office and, two, the fact that it's not about politics,” he said Tuesday night. “It's not about being a Democrat or Republican, it's about being a good crime fighter.”
Whetsel carried with him experience, name recognition and dollars, outraising his opponent nearly 14 to 1 despite running on the Democratic ticket in largely Republican territory.
Registration numbers logged by the Oklahoma County Election Board indicate the gulf between county Democrats and Republicans was wider this year than it has been in at least a decade.
There were less than 168,000 Democrats registered in the county on Election Day, compared to nearly 180,000 Republicans. In contrast, there were actually more Democrats registered in Oklahoma County in 2008 (181,000) than Republicans (not quite 180,000).
Sorrels, 58, of Midwest City, and his supporters tried to seize upon that disparity early and often, painting Whetsel as a big-spending liberal who took orders from the federal government and did not support gun rights.
That plan appears to have fallen short, and Whetsel won despite strong wins Tuesday for Oklahoma Republicans in other local, state and federal races.
Sorrels could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.
Pat Hall, Whetsel's campaign manager, said it was clear from the outset that the sheriff would need support from both sides of the aisle to win.
“That was always our strategy,” Hall said Tuesday night. “Educated people and others have crossed over and will vote for Democrat in this environment if they believe they're doing a good job.”
The results of the sheriff's race will have an impact on county business almost immediately. A design plan for a new county jail could be put before county officials as early as this month; and, if supported, a sales tax to finance the estimated $330 million project could be on a ballot as early as this spring.
Whetsel said throughout his campaign that he would wait to see the design proposal and estimate before deciding whether to support a new jail.
Three other Oklahoma County races were decided previously. Carolynn Caudill, the incumbent county clerk, ran unopposed in her bid for re-election; Brian Maughan, the incumbent District 2 commissioner, won re-election in a July primary; and Tim Rhodes, the current deputy county court clerk, won a runoff election in August to take over a vacant seat for county court clerk.
All four county seats are for four-year terms that begin Jan. 1.