Management style appears to be the dividing line between candidates for Oklahoma County sheriff, but will party politics also play a role?
Campaign managers for the incumbent, John Whetsel, and his challenger, Darrell Sorrels, said no. But it's clear Sorrels, a Republican, is using party affiliation as a discerning factor between himself and Whetsel, a Democrat.
In an Aug. 22 speech to the Oklahoma Conservative Political Action Committee, Sorrels emphasized he is a conservative constitutionalist who will limit ties between the county sheriff's office and the federal government.
“A sheriff can protect his citizens and his county against the federal government,” he said, adding that he would not accept federal grants as sheriff.
Sorrels also supported Rep. Charles Key, R-Oklahoma City, a self-described “constitutional patriot,” in the August runoff election for Oklahoma County court clerk. Keys ultimately lost the race, two-to-one.
Whetsel, who confirmed his office typically accepts $300,000 to $400,000 in annual federal technology grants, said he is a conservative Democrat — the type who supports gun ownership rights and who has received the endorsement of all but one of the county's Republican elected officials.
“I don't run with a label, and quite frankly I don't think law enforcement should be about politics,” he said.
Voting results in 2004 and 2008 demonstrate Whetsel's party alignment has not been a liability in previous elections despite heavy wins by Republican candidates in other local, state and national races.
Whetsel won 165,000 votes to his opponent's 100,000 votes in 2004 when voter registration indicated Republicans outnumbered Democrats by nearly 5,000. In contrast, incumbent Republican George W. Bush defeated Democrat John Kerry 174,741 to 97,298 in Oklahoma County in that election.
In 2008, Whetsel won 169,000 to 104,000 when party identification among county voters was nearly equal. Republican John McCain beat Democrat Barack Obama with 59 percent of the Oklahoma County vote in that election.
As of Oct. 5, 2012, there were 178,333 registered Republicans, 164,655 Democrats and 56,656 independents in Oklahoma County.
“It might be stronger this time than it has been, the hurdle (Whetsel) has to jump, but I would tell you he's jumped that hurdle every time before,” said Pat McPherson, a Republican strategist in charge of polling for Cole, Hargrave, Snodgrass and Associates in Oklahoma City. “When it comes to offices such as sheriff, voters are not as partisan as they are in races for president.”