ONE of Tuesday's primary election highlights will be the fight for the Republican nomination in Oklahoma's 2nd Congressional District. That almost all attention is focused on the Republican race in a heavily Democratic district says much about the impact of President Barack Obama's policies on local Democrats.
The area has been represented by Dan Boren, a centrist Democrat who often votes with Republicans. Boren is popular, yet he got only 56.5 percent of the vote in 2010. He decided not to run for re-election this year, one of many indicators that Oklahoma Democrats aren't eager to be on the same ballot as their presidential candidate.
The party failed to file a candidate for either of the two Corporation Commission seats up this year, including one held by an unelected Republican appointee. The GOP has already picked up two seats in the state Senate after incumbent Democrats declined to seek re-election and no Democrats filed for the offices. That may be unprecedented.
In Oklahoma's presidential primary in March, Obama had his worst showing in the 2nd District, getting just 42 percent against no-name challengers. Yet nearly 64 percent of voters in the district are registered Democrats.
Oklahoma voters once differentiated between the national Democratic Party and its local candidates. Apparently, that's no longer the case. The two Democrats running in the 2nd District — Rob Wallace and Wayne Herriman — are swimming against the tide.
Six Republicans are seeking their party's nomination with several legitimate contenders. Markwayne Mullin, a plumbing company owner, has raised the most money. According to a poll released by his campaign, which should not be taken as Gospel, Mullin leads the Republican race but a runoff is likely.
State Rep. George Faught, R-Muskogee, has a track record of winning votes in heavily Democratic areas as a conservative and should not be overlooked. He's served three terms in the state House. Dustin Rowe is another conservative with proven appeal to traditional Democrat voters. Elected mayor of Tishomingo at age 18, he served two terms and also worked for former U.S. Sen. Don Nickles and former U.S. Rep. Wes Watkins.
Dakota Wood served 20 years in the military and eventually became a Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, D.C., where he focused on national security and defense issues. Although he has family roots in the district, Wayne Pettigrew is a bit of a carpetbagger, having previously served 10 years in the state House representing Edmond, where he also lost a mayoral race. Dwayne Thompson, a preacher and former salesman, has lagged far behind the other candidates in fundraising.
The district has only about 110,000 registered Republicans and actual turnout could be far lower. Thanks to Obama's polices, that handful of voters may effectively select eastern Oklahoma's next congressman.
If Republicans win the 2nd District, the GOP would hold every congressional seat and all statewide offices, as well as control the Legislature. That would be a first in Oklahoma history and produce a much different political picture than just a generation ago.