CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Wallace Collins knew when he took over as chairman of the Oklahoma Democratic Party last year that some changes had to be made.
Democrats had lost every statewide office in 2010 for the first time in state history. Republicans had a firm grip on both houses of the Oklahoma Legislature. The Democratic candidate for president had lost every county in the state in the last two elections, and Republicans steadily were gaining registered voters.
At the GOP national convention in Tampa, Fla., last week, Gov. Mary Fallin and other Oklahoma Republicans delighted in referring repeatedly to their state as the reddest in the nation.
“Democrats had been in power, and they took for granted it was going to last,” Betty McElderry, a longtime Democratic activist said Monday.
In an interview Monday, on the eve of the Democratic National Convention, Collins said the party already has made progress that would pay off in November and in the next election cycle.
Not long after taking over the party, Collins brought in a campaign expert from South Carolina to serve as interim executive director and modernize operations at the state headquarters. Democrats had to have a professional staff to compete with the state Republican Party's staff, Collins said.
The “interim” label for Trav Robertson has been dropped; he is now the party's executive director. Collins said he and Robertson have put together a comprehensive plan to target certain legislative races this year; they hope to implement it statewide in 2014.
“We just need to get down to the nitty-gritty and get back to work of doing those kinds of things the party has done in the past,” Collins said.
Robertson, Collins said, is a “number cruncher” with skills and connections that have been invaluable. The party also is working on training candidates and developing consistent messages “so we don't have people scatter like a covey of quail and go off in all directions but rather stay focused and do the things that need to be done in order to win an election.”
McElderry said the state party had to master the modern tools of campaigning while tending to its traditional duties, like grass-roots organizing.