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Oklahoma elections: How red is the state?

Does the GOP sweep on Tuesday make Oklahoma the reddest state in the nation?
BY CHRIS CASTEEL Published: November 7, 2010

Well, Oklahoma and Utah don't. Oklahoma's Legislature will be 68 percent Republican next year, while Utah's will be 77 percent Republican. Idaho's will be 81 percent Republican.

But here's a stat:

Oklahoma's U.S. House delegation was the second-most conservative in the nation, according to 2009 rankings by the National Journal, a news magazine that covers Congress and politics, beating both Idaho and Utah. And Oklahoma's two senators were the most conservative combo.

Wyoming's red ratio

Which House delegation was more conservative than Oklahoma's?

Wyoming's, but it's only one person.

Wyoming also has the highest percentage of people who identify themselves as conservative, according to a Gallup poll released in August. Oklahoma finished ninth in that poll, behind Utah and Idaho.

All of Wyoming's members of Congress and statewide officers are Republican, and its Legislature is 84 percent Republican, higher even than Idaho.

But, Oklahoma beat Wyoming in 2008 in the percentage of votes for Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee — 65.6 to 65.2.

"Wyoming was always Republican," said University of Oklahoma professor Keith Gaddie. "Oklahomans have made this conscious choice to overthrow Democrats."

'A question of when'

Gaddie, who is writing a book for the OU Press called "Red State Rising," said no Democrat even came close to winning statewide office last week.

"It was going to happen someday," he said. "It was just a question of when. And now it's here."

Cole, who helped build and modernize the Oklahoma Republican Party as party chairman and a political consultant, said Democrats are weaker today as a party than Republicans were when Cole took over as chairman in 1985. Then, almost all of the congressional seats and statewide offices were held by Democrats, who also controlled both houses of the Legislature.

In the last two decades, Cole said, ideology has aligned with party.

"Oklahoma's a very conservative state," he said. "It's not a Republican state."

Like many, Todd Goodman, chairman of the Oklahoma Democratic Party, attributed Tuesday's results to the national wave that grew out of resentment toward Washington.

But he told supporters in an e-mail last week that "when the people of Oklahoma see what it is like to live in a state with total Republican control, the pendulum will begin to swing back our way."


U.S. Rep. Dan Boren
Boren, the only Democrat in Oklahoma's congressional delegation, got 56.5 percent of the vote on Tuesday, a healthy margin of victory, but far below what he has come to expect. His lowest general election margin before Tuesday came in his first race, in 2004, when he got 66 percent. In 2006, he got 73 percent and, in 2008, he got 70 percent. But Boren, of Muskogee, was "ecstatic" that people who may have wanted to vote a straight Republican ticket took the time instead to mark their ballots for him in his race against Republican Charles Thompson. Boren predicted two years ago that this would be a tough race if a Democrat won the presidency. Presidential midterm elections are always tough on the party in power, and President Barack Obama made 2010 even more so. Boren spent more than $1.5 million in the last two years to protect his seat. Thompson, of Hulbert, hasn't kept up with his campaign finance filing requirements, but the last report he filed, in August, showed he had spent less than $25,000.

Sen. Jim Inhofe
Inhofe, R-Tulsa, said he was "just in shock" that Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski may pull out her race after running as a write-in candidate. The race is expected to take weeks to sort out, but the write-in candidates — led by Murkowski — finished ahead of Republican Joe Miller, a Tea Party favorite endorsed by Sarah Palin, and Democrat Scott McAdams. If Murkowski, a Republican, returns, Inhofe said, "she's not going to be very happy with me because I was pretty active in that race" for Miller. Inhofe predicted in Oklahoma City in August that Republicans would pick up as many as 13 seats; they gained six.

Sen. Tom Coburn
Coburn, R-Muskogee, carried his home county on Tuesday, something he didn't do when he won his first Senate term in 2004 against Democrat Brad Carson. Coburn said he's prepared to continue being a thorn in the side of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who survived a brawl with a Tea Party candidate. "I'm not going to change anything I do,'' said Coburn, who routinely blocks legislation that Reid tries to pass through the Senate fast-track process. "I'm going to get more people to do what I do." Coburn said the assumption that he and Reid don't get along personally is wrong. "I just exasperate him,'' Coburn said.

Rep. Frank Lucas
Lucas, R-Cheyenne, who will lead the House Agriculture Committee next year because of the GOP takeover, will have a very different panel in 2012. Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, said 13 of the 28 Democrats on the committee lost on Tuesday and another didn't seek re-election to the House. Lucas said he expects to spend 2011 getting the new members up to speed and conducting oversight before doing the hard work of writing a new farm bill in 2012.



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