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Oklahoma County sheriff candidates say political party is not a factor in campaigns

Sheriff John Whetsel says he is a conservative Democrat; his opponent, Darrell Sorrels, says he is a conservative constitutionalist. Both claim voters won't look at party designation when casting their votes.
BY ZEKE CAMPFIELD Published: October 7, 2012

Even with an increase in straight-party voting — figures show 59.5 percent of Republican votes cast in 2008 in Oklahoma County were straight-party, compared to 54.7 percent four years prior — it is not expected to make a difference in the sheriff's race.

When checking a straight-party box, a voter can opt for an opposing party in a single line vote in county races, said Pat Hall, a former head of the Oklahoma Democratic Party who is managing Whetsel's re-election campaign.

“The only hope that (Sorrels) has would be if there is large Republican straight-party voting,” Hall said. “Probably instead of 65 percent of the votes or higher, (Whetsel) will get 62 percent of the vote. But you have to remember, a lot of those straight-party votes are also Democrats.”

If anything, campaign fundraising and spending may be the deciding factor in the race.

Financial disclosure reports filed with the state ethics commission last month indicate Whetsel had raised more than $315,000 in individual contributions compared to $12,500 raised by Sorrels. Subtract $255,000 in carry-over from Whetsel's 2008 campaign, and the incumbent has still raised almost five times that of his challenger.

And as of Aug. 30, Whetsel's campaign had spent 12 times that of his opponent, according to the reports.

One of Sorrels' campaign managers, Carol Knight, owner of Freedom Bail Bonds in Oklahoma City, said those figures don't intimidate her.

“We don't care if they give us money, we care if they give us votes,” Knight said. “I'm not concerned with how much money's in the Whetsel campaign, and I'm not concerned with what Whetsel's doing. We're going to talk to people, we're going to get the vote, and I think we have the candidate that's going to win. Otherwise I wouldn't be working for him.”