A 75-year-old man who doesn't formally campaign and runs for office nearly every election year is the Democratic nominee to take on a popular Republican incumbent in the fall.
Jim Rogers, a colorful perennial candidate,
Name recognition and a well-known last name in Oklahoma fueled Rogers' vote totals. The former college professor, who refuses to say where he taught, received 65 percent of the vote with 157,926 votes. His opponent, Mark Myles, an attorney who worked for IBM for 20 years before going to law school, got 83,709 votes.
"Names matter," said Ben Odom, an attorney and longtime political consultant. "If you're going to run for office in Oklahoma, you can't have a better name than Rogers."
Some may have assumed Rogers was related to Oklahoma's own Will Rogers, the 1930s performer and political pundit, he said.
"Voters probably went to the polls, not knowing either one of the names," Odom said. "They saw Rogers and said, 'I've heard that one before,' and voted for Jim Rogers."
Rogers, who says he's not related to Will Rogers, is the second candidate nationally who did little campaigning to get the Democratic nod to challenge a Republican incumbent for U.S. Senate. Earlier this summer, South Carolina Democrats elected Alvin Greene, an unemployed military veteran, to challenge Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Demint. Greene beat a former four-term state lawmaker.
Last week's win is Rogers' first. He's run for U.S. Senate four times and lieutenant governor once.
"I think I did fantastic," Rogers said. "I appreciate all the people that voted for me and the confidence they expressed in me."
It didn't take glitzy ads or an aggressive social media plan for Rogers to receive the nomination. His signs are handmade. His campaign T-shirts look like they are made with iron-on lettering. Rogers' gets his message out by holding up signs at busy intersections in Midwest City during rush hour. He talks to any voter willing to stop and listen.
His main campaign issues are keeping jobs in the United States and supporting local businesses.
"I would not expect this Senate race to be very spirited," said Todd Goodman, chairman of the state Democratic party.
In past campaigns, Rogers hasn't attended forums or debates. Party leaders say their conversations with Rogers have been few and they don't know how to reach him.
"I kept telling people I was running against a ghost," Myles said. "I knew Mr. Rogers wasn't campaigning, but I had to overcome his name recognition."
For his part, Myles admitted he entered the race late and if given more time he could have been a strong candidate against Coburn, who reported $1.8 million on hand going into his race, according to federal election reports.
Myles said he campaigned for six weeks. He raised less than $5,000, according to campaign finance reports.
"I put about 8,000 miles on my car and just ran out of time before I could get to all the places I wanted to get to. I was very well received by the audiences I talked to," Myles said.
State party officials do not support a single candidate in partisan primary elections. They give all candidates equal advice and then support them in the general election, Goodman said. With a popular Republican like Coburn, it's hard to recruit willing candidates and raise enough money when the election seems to be an uphill slog.
While Myles is disappointed, he said the outcome should be a lesson to party officials.
"If it had worked out, if Jim Rogers hadn't filed, I would have been the nominee," Myles said. "But he was the fly in the ointment. It's his right and his prerogative to run, but some of the responsibility falls on the state Democratic party. We have to plan early. We have to understand that Jim Rogers is probably going to file every year that he's alive. We've got to be able to compete against that."