Republican and Democratic voters took the first step today to select who will lead the state for the next four years, choosing from a lineup that is one of the most impressive in recent memory.
Democrats chose between Attorney General Drew Edmondson, who has been elected to that post since 1994, and Lt. Gov. Jari Askins, a longtime legislator before being elected to that office in 2006, to be their party's nominees for governor.
Democratic Gov. Brad Henry is prohibited from seeking a third four-year term.
U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin, R-Oklahoma City, is the favorite among Republican gubernatorial contenders. Before being elected in 2006 to the 5th Congressional District post, Fallin served three terms as lieutenant governor and two terms in the state House of Representatives.
Edmondson, from Muskogee, is seeking to become the second member of his family to occupy the Governor's Mansion.
His uncle, J. Howard Edmondson, was elected in 1958 and served until early 1963, when he was appointed to the U.S. Senate after the death of Robert S. Kerr. Edmondson's father, Ed, spent 20 years in Congress, and his brother, James, is chief justice of the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
Askins, from Duncan, was a judge before winning election to the Legislature, where she served the maximum 12 years. She won a tough lieutenant governor's race in 2006, beating then-House Speaker Todd Hiett, a Republican from Kellyville.
Fallin's main GOP opponent is state Sen. Randy Brogdon, from Owasso. A former Owasso mayor, city councilman and small business owner, Brogdon is making his first attempt at a statewide office.
Other Republican gubernatorial candidates are political newcomers Robert Hubbard, of Yukon, and Roger L. Jackson, of Oklahoma City.
Democrats and Republicans will vote for candidates for U.S. Senate, governor and state schools superintendent.
Republicans also will select nominees for the posts of lieutenant governor, state auditor and inspector, attorney general, state treasurer, labor commissioner, insurance commissioner and corporation commissioner.
Republicans and Democrats will choose their nominees in the 2nd and 5th congressional districts. Republicans also will vote for candidates in the 1st and 4th congressional districts.
Primary elections involve races in 23 House districts and 11 Senate districts.
County races on ballots this year are for assessor, county clerk, treasurer and District 1 county commissioner.
Having names with as much political clout as the main gubernatorial contenders could help with voter turnout.
State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax said an open race for governor also increases voter participation. He estimates about 500,000, or 25 percent, of the state's 2.05 million registered voters will cast ballots.
Steady but not heavy turnouts have been reported during three days of early, in-person absentee voting at county election boards across the state, he said.
"Everything seems to be running smoothly," Ziriax said. "I'm still very hopeful given the spirited races that are on the ballots that we have an opportunity for a pretty good turnout."
It's difficult to predict turnout for primary elections because fewer people vote then, he said. In addition, independents may only vote for judicial positions or any local questions on the ballot during the primary; independents may vote for Democrats and Republicans in the Nov. 2 general election.
Except in Tulsa and Pawnee counties, the judicial candidate winning a majority of the votes today wins the post; in Tulsa and Pawnee counties the top two vote-getters regardless of winning percentage advance to the Nov. 2 election.
Primary elections with three or more candidates could result in runoffs Aug. 24. To avoid a runoff, a candidate in a primary with three or more candidates must get a majority of votes cast. If that doesn't happen, the top two candidates advance to the runoff.
IF YOU GO
GOING TO VOTE
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. today for primary elections. Voters with vision problems and those who have trouble marking a ballot have the option to use telephones at every polling place.